Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Grim Side of the Internet

FACEBOOK, Twitter, Angry Birds, Wordpress - throw these words around and chances are most children will be able to explain it better than the average adult.  

Children today live in a world very different from what a lot of us knew growing up. The Internet has become such an integral part of a child's growing up process.

It has revolutionised the way children learn and access information. Children are able to carry out research faster and gain information in a more effective manner from the numerous websites available.

Their learning process has become more exciting because of the visuals and the wealth of knowledge available online.

As with everything good, there is also a downside to the Internet. But when does the Internet cross the line from friend to foe?

It is crucial for parents to know what their children read online in order to make their learning experience a more wholesome one.

Children who are reading one particular website will only be privy to just one side of a story. As such, they are not able to see things from a different viewpoint or think outside the box.

If children are conducting research on a topic, parents should encourage them to read many websites relating to that topic as it will give them fresh perspectives and new ideas.

Other sources of information like journals, books and magazines should also be encouraged as a multimedia approach is best.

There are increasing concerns that our technology-savvy children are subconsciously being exposed to pornography or becoming victims of cyber bullies and paedophiles.

Children are no strangers to social networking sites and chat rooms even though the minimum age requirement is 18.

Being inexperienced they fail to realise the repercussions of `friending' a stranger on Facebook or chatting with someone who seems to be paying them extra attention.

Paedophiles prey on children in chat rooms and social networking websites. Their modus operandi usually includes establishing a relationship with a child by pretending to lend a listening ear to their problems and gaining their trust.

Once they have gained the child's trust, they begin engaging in sexually explicit conversations with them. Sometimes, it does not stop at just conversations and the child is invited to go out with these perverts.

And that is just the tip of the iceberg. What follows can be far more sinister - kidnapping, sexual assault, rape and in some cases, cold-blooded murder.

Another issue is cyber bullying. Cyber bullying comes in many forms and is sometimes easier for the bully to inflict on his victim than face-to-face because of the Internet's anonymity factor.

Cyber bullying includes posting hate comments on someone's Facebook wall, sending out threatening emails and in worse scenarios, creating a website to make fun of someone - which is what happened to Canadian teenager David Knight.

Knight was informed by a school mate that there was an active website about him and when he checked it out, Knight was mortified to learn that there were hundreds of hateful comments about him and his family. Someone had even accused Knight of being a paedophile on the website.

Cyber bullying can cause as much damage to a child as face-to-face bullying. In some instances it can be even worse as rumours and false accusations can spread in social circles like wildfire creating distress, embarrassment and worry to the child.

In extreme cases, both children and teenagers have been known to commit suicide as they were unable to handle the bullying inflicted on them any longer.

Regardless of what form, the effects of bullying on children can be detrimental if not curbed effectively.

Another concern for parents is their children's exposure to pornography. Studies show that before the days of the Internet, children only became exposed to pornography in their teens but things have changed considerably these days.

According to researchers, the average age of exposure to pornography in children has now gone down to 8 years old.

Oftentimes, it is not the intention of a child to view pornography. A simple word that is misspelt can lead a child into an adult website.

Experts feel that it is important for parents not to reprimand their children when they discover that their children have been visiting pornographic websites.

Parents should instead use a softer approach and confront their children in a non-threatening manner. Once the situation has been understood, ask the children what they can do to ensure it does not become a regular occurrence.

This way, the child does not feel wronged by his accidental foray into porn and will not rebel against his parents by going to these sites again.

Additionally, parents can install filters in their computers and monitor their children's web surfing and activities in chat rooms.

One of the more effective ways is to educate children on the dangers of befriending strangers online and to report strangers who are harassing them to their parents.

Children should also be advised not to divulge any information about themselves or their family online.

It may not seem like much but a little education can go a long way. As it is a very serious matter, children should be forewarned of the many dangers that lie in the virtual world and the dire consequences that can befall them should they choose to ignore these warnings.

The Internet has without a doubt dramatically changed the way that children grow up today. But without proper guidance and monitoring it can take a twisted turn and lead up to a host of disasters.

With children being sitting ducks it is best to take all the necessary measures to make their online experience a healthy and pain-free one.

Keeping our children safe

With children being increasingly well-versed with technology and the Internet, it is only wise that parents be one step ahead of them.

Filtering is a good way for parents to monitor their children's activities online and block them from viewing unwanted sites.

Internet filters are softwares or hardwares that disable access to inappropriate websites and materials online.

All parents have to do block inappropriate sites using an address filter or word filter. This can be done using a default list or from a list that the parents have set.

There is also a list called the bad site list which helps parents protect their children from being exposed to pornographic sites or even sites that use inappropriate language.

In addition, these filters also disallow children from accessing certain chat rooms keeping them safe from online predators.

Also available in the market are monitoring and tracking programmes. These programmes help parents monitor the various websites that their children have visited and also how much time they spend on these sites. It also monitors any IM chats that children engage in.

It is important for parents the check the filters and what it encompasses before actually buying it. There are various filters out in the market but not all may be suitable for every home. Parents will need to look at which one is best suited for their household in terms of the level of filtering it gives including tracking emails, predator blocking, personal information blocking and so on.

Taking these steps is vital in ensuring that children are safe when they are on the Internet. It also gives parents a sense of relief knowing that their children are protected from shady characters and bullies.


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