Modernization has seen the rapid advancement of accessibility to a growing internet. Today, the internet is easily accessed via smartphones and kids are exposed to it at a very young age. Since kids and teenagers are easily influenced demographics, there’s a lot of concern about how the junk on the internet might negatively influence your children.
What all of us must understand is that the internet is both a gift and a curse at the same time. It has drastically changed the shape of media, culture, communication, entertainment, business and life itself, it’s bridged gaps between people across the world and has helped us understand perspectives with the seemingly infinite knowledge that exists online.
On the other hand, many people across the world are facing addictions to the internet! It has reduced face-to-face social interaction and affected interpersonal relationships, while also providing a platform for the wrong kind of people to spread false information and cause harm.
The Advent of Social Media
You will have noticed that at a young age, social media has played a far bigger role in your children’s lives than it did in yours. Since kids are on social media at a younger age, it's key to communicate with them and make sure they understand the positives and negatives of social media and where the boundaries need to be set and the lines need to be drawn.
You, as a parent, need to sit down with your child and discussing both sides of the coin when it comes to social media. You need to help them understand that it certainly has its positives, such as helping them stay connected to their friends and acquaintances, spreading awareness about various causes and charities, sharing their creativity and tastes in the arts with likeminded people, and much more. It can be a wonderful platform to discuss topics with people with similar mindsets, but all of this comes with a risk as well.
Posting inappropriate content for the world to see can come back to bite them in the future, particularly in jobs and interviews. We often underestimate how much information social media stores about us as individuals, which is why you need to make your children understand the importance of privacy and being conscious about what they put out for the world to see. In addition, being the victim of cyberbullying on social media can be devastating to their self-confidence and future. Some of the other risks to watch out for when using the internet:
Spread of malware via "phishing"
Everpresent scams (pyramid schemes and "get-rich-fast" offers)
Publicly shared private information
Risk of addiction
While the negatives can be quite concerning to you as a parent, you must keep in mind that outright banning your child from using the internet won't have the positive effects that you may anticipate. It will only isolate them further and at times, can have the effect of forcing them underground, hiding their internet use! From an early age, you must openly communicate with your children about the potential dangers of the Internet - and this goes well beyond social media.
With all that being said, we urge you to encourage your children to participate in #ScrollFreeSeptember. This movement is all about staying away from social media for the month of September. We tend to spend hours a day scrolling mindlessly through social media feeds - hours that could be used more productively.
The entire purpose of #ScrollFreeSeptember is to help people step back and reflect on their social media usage and what they consider to be the positives and negatives of it all. While it doesn't expect to stop or even reduce social media usage in the long-term, #ScrollFreeSeptember has become a popular movement because it really helps individuals realize what they enjoy (and miss!) about social media the most.
It's possible to alert your child about all these problems without scaring them. They should be cautioned but should also know that they shouldn't be scared while online. Here are a few ways you can help your children safely browse the internet:
- Open communication: Openly communicate with your children, be honest about the risks of the internet, ask them what they like to do and how they can avoid risks. Be open-minded and calm when talking to them. We often underestimate how much children really know about the internet, and there's a good chance that they're aware of more than what you think. Accept that, respect it, and guide them in the right direction.
- Formal contracts: Write or type down a contract - one that they can actually sign. The contract should state that they will responsibly use the internet without giving out private information and to not misuse it to bully others. While not legally enforceable, these contracts make them feel responsible for their own actions.
- Parental controls on devices: These controls help put a cap on your child's usage of the internet and control the kind of content that they consume.
- Famous trends to detox from the internet: Children today tend to relate to the latest trends and hashtags, which is why you should encourage your children to follow trends that encourage detoxing from social media and the internet in general. That’s right - you can use the online trend to fight the online trend! #ScrollFreeSeptember encourages you to disconnect and avoid social media for a month. Another recent trend is #DigitalSunset, basically a trend that says: From 7 PM to 7 AM every day for a week, either switch off or completely put away your phone. There are plenty of fun non-digital activities to participate it in (including sleep!) and you, along with your child, will feel all the benefits of a daily digital detox.
Always remember to let your children know that you trust them. If you're able to establish that trust, your children will be motivated to surf the internet and utilize it in a way that benefits them in the long run. Safe surfing!
Writing credit: Authored by Prithiv, a Mobicip researcher who writes about the effects of technology on health and well-being.