Our children and the internet

Recent media has downplayed the Momo challenge as a hoax. Regardless of how true the Momo challenge was, this viral phenomenon has cast public attention to the seriousness of being more aware of the threats our kids face when they use the internet, unchaperoned.

It is said that we should treat kids' interactions with the Internet similar to that of how they interact with strangers. In actual fact, we should be more wary, as on the Internet, it is easier for strangers to take on a fake identity, and pretend to be people the kids know.

How then do we minimise danger towards our children? Professor Raphael Phan and Associate Professor Wong Kok Sheik, from the School of Information Technology at Monash University Malaysia share some insights.

Being aware is the starting point. The next step is having differently-spaced conversations with our kids, about what they should be careful of when they use the Internet. It is also essential that these are conveyed in a manner which kids would be able to understand. It is recommended that emphasis be placed on two key areas:

*1. What seems real may be fake*

The Internet has made it difficult for us to verify, at face value, what is real and what isn’t. It is thus important to educate children to always check with you, their guardian.

For example, when someone sends them a WhatsApp message, saying they are a close friend of Mom and Dad, teach them to verify with you if it is really true. Another instance, is when watching an online video, and the video suddenly changes, teach them that this probably means something is wrong, and they have to alert you to it.

*2. Don't tell anyone anything about yourself*

With information so easily accessible today, it is important to safeguard your identity. Similarly, speak to your children, and tell them not to share too much information about themselves online. For example, their location – where they go to school, where they hang out usually with friends, etc. It’s best to keep personal life, private.

Bringing up kids is about providing them the best environment we can offer. Yet at the same time, we have to realise that eventually, they will have to interact with the real world. As parents, it is impossible to be there all the time, to protect them.  It is thus important to get them ready to discern from themselves.

As with anything, the Internet has a lot of good potential. The aim is not to completely go offline, but to educate them to be aware of what’s real, the do’s and dont’s, and to surf with caution.

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Some specific do’s and don’ts:

  • Make sure you know who they are communicating with
  • Communicate with them, ask about their online experience
  • Talk with their friends
  • Parents can get the most up-to-date alerts from reliable sources such as ParentZone
  • Don't believe everything you read online
  • Set privacy systems on all devices
  • Educate your children
  • Chat with them when you see them switching apps / screens constantly

Some old school approaches

  • Create rules and limit online time. Make sure they are followed
  • Spend time with your children

Raphael Phan is a Professor, specialising in security and problems caused by misbehaving humans. Wong Kok Sheik is an Associate Professor specialising in digital content security, and multimedia signal processing.

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Some resources

https://parentzone.org.uk/article/three-minute-briefing-momo-challenge

With the Momo Challenge, contact is triggered by searching for a special phone number online and sending a text or Whatsapp message. The player enters into a conversation that sends distressing images and aims to persuade them to complete challenges ranging from waking up at certain times to self-harm and even suicide.

<Kids & Tech: Tips for Parents in the Digital Age>

https://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/Media/Pages/Tips-for-Parents-Digital-Age.aspx