Technology in Focus | Parenting in the digital world
It is often difficult to talk to children about the digital world, especially as it relates to the dangers that exist, but there is good news as resources and protections are gradually becoming available in Jamaica.
Jamaica has passed cybercrimes legislation and people can access materials such as the Be Social, Be Safe handbook by the Office of the Children’s Advocate (OCA), available in different versions for children and adults.
While parents cannot protect their children from everything, talking with them opens windows to learning together as a family. It also allows parents to set boundaries for their children, using technology and basic parenting methods such as taking away a device for discipline and by setting an example with their own behaviour patterns.
“It’s about finding a balance between the future and the opportunity versus the dangers out there,” said parent and Talk UpYout founder Emprezz Golding.
Children’s Advocate Diahann Gordon Harrison said that in addition to trying to minimise the amount of social media to which children are exposed, a balance needs to be maintained.
“At the same time, I recognise that they are not always with me, and so those conversations about ‘what to do’ and ‘what not to do’ are had,” said Gordon Harrison.
“They know, for instance, that they do not click on anything that seems remotely interactive, they do not reveal personal information, and that what they do online is a reflection of themselves in real life. The general rule is that if they would not do something in real life, then it is also inappropriate on social-media platforms,” Gordon Harrison outlined.
The dangers that Golding and Gordon Harrison highlighted are supported by recent research. In responding to polls sent in 2018 by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) social messaging tool U-Report to U-Reporters who were aged 13-29, some 39 per cent said that they had been cyberbullied. Forty-seven per cent said that social media affected their mental health while 86 per cent replied “yes” when asked if they thought social media has the potential to be a toxic environment.
Similar to many parents, Golding is concerned about the dangers and openly discusses them with her son in an attempt to also build trust.
“My son is only seven and he wants a YouTube channel, but I tell him he can’t because I don’t trust people on the Internet. He said that he can disable comments, but I don’t trust them, and he’s adamant. But I have to explain, and be clear that it’s not him that I don’t trust, but ‘the people out there’,” says Golding.
As many parents have experienced, it is often children who educate them and not the other way around. Therefore, parents should embrace this and acknowledge their own mistakes, as Golding discovered.
“He’s been able to do things on the phone and work out how to do it, and I thought I was tech savvy,” said Golding.
IT infrastructure manager at MC Systems, Collin Burgess, practises security at work and at home with his 14-year-old daughter. Besides building trust with communication, Burgess recommends that other parents develop their own approach, which combines what he calls manual and automated.
“You can install automated parenting software so that if your child is accessing age-inappropriate sites or content, it will send you an alert,” says Burgess.
“But for parents who are not aware or can’t afford to access paid protection measures, they will need to be more manual, in that, they must ensure that
- the phone is up to date and has antivirus software installed.
- both parent and child educate themselves.
- regular privacy checks on Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp and other social media are done.
- strong password security (at least eight characters, include lowercase and uppercase alphabetic characters, numbers and symbols if permitted) are set.
- a scheduled time to access the Internet is in place.
- sites/apps are safe to access.
- email links or URLs sources are analysed before clicking.
- free software is reviewed before installing them (by clicking, an unsafe link could compromise your confidentiality).
What Burgess says about different parenting circumstances is a sensitive topic. Several wealthy Silicon Valley leaders have famously reduced their children’s access to the very products their companies produce. A recent World Health Organization (WHO) report advises parents not to expose infants under one year old to digital screens and advises that children aged two to four should have no more than one hour of screen time daily.
Circumstances aside, parents should all want to consider whether they over-rely on devices to keep children occupied, and whether, as parents, they are too preoccupied with them for social and work purposes and fail to be present for their children.
Therefore, not only should parents watch their children, they must also monitor their own usage of social media and the Internet.
“This can range from limiting our own screen time to setting an example by not engaging in activities like posting negative comments or content that could endanger our children by revealing their location or exposing them to bullying – whether online or at the school playground,” adds Burgess.
Seven-year-old Naima-Kourtnae, daughter of media personality Terri-Karelle Reid, has been educated about online safety and how to address invasion of privacy by her mother.
“My mommy taught me that when someone wants to take a picture, I should cover my face by putting up my hand, say no, and tell my mommy or any adult who is with me. I am not allowed to give anyone my number or put my picture on WhatsApp, and I should not download a game without asking my mother’s permission,” said Naima-Kourtnae.
More parental involvement can lead to fewer children becoming victims or perpetrators of online crimes.
- Sign up for classes in person or online to get on par with your kids.
- Be aware of new threats such as human traffickers targeting social media.
- When buying devices, be able to monitor, for example, situate computer in living area.
- Install features to allow blocking of inappropriate content and monitoring.
- Talk to your children about Internet safety, and lead by your own good behaviour.
- Learn together: Share information with them and ask them questions.
- Ensure that children are confident so that when they see something, they say something.
- Impress them that this is real. Do not allow a stranger into the house or online.
- Explain the legal consequences of actions, for example, sharing illegal content.
- Never give your child a digital device without understanding threats and discussing them.