That's my kid on the information highway


Preeti (10) is ecstatic to find answers to all her questions with a mere click of the mouse. Her PC has turned into her best friend and it has captured her imagination. Preeti’s parents are delighted to find their only child occupied and happy. She collects information for her Science projects without ‘disturbing’ them, while web pages on Math seem to make her adept with numbers. Their idyll is shattered when a friend warns them of the many dangers lurking on the Web, especially for young children. Jolted out of their comfort zone, Preeti’s parents realise that cyberspace may actually be dangerous.

With the widespread use of the internet, the world is indeed at our fingertips. A wealth of information is at our disposal and quick communication has become possible. Infinite opportunities have arisen for the young and old alike. But as with any other activity like cycling or driving, we need to anticipate the pitfalls involved while browsing.

The internet holds many dangers, for the young and the unsuspecting. There are no censors on the web. Any individual or company can put up any kind of material — useful or offensive. The Information Highway, as it is called, is very much like any other highway. Just as we watch over our children while visiting new places or meeting new people, we need to adopt a similar approach with the internet. It is important for us to know this new virtual world and learn how to be safe in it.

Recognising risks

While browsing, a child may stumble upon adult websites which most parents would consider inappropriate. Bullies are on the internet too. Very often children become victims of cyber bullies. A child using a chat room may make friends with a person whom her parents might not approve of. Every responsible parent needs to ask the question, ‘How do I protect my child from internet predators?’ It is also imperative for parents to become computer literate and seek ways of protecting their children. Banning the use of the internet is not the solution. Instead, find online filtering tools which restrict undesirable websites, especially chat rooms, until you think your child can handle interactions with strangers. Chat rooms can be blocked using filters.

Keep computers in a common area of the house, where the child’s internet activity can be monitored. You could even bookmark the sites that your child needs to visit frequently. This will prevent your child from stumbling upon unwanted material. Perhaps, you could do some internet research along with your children and, in the process, educate them on good internet behaviour.

Teach them ‘netiquette’

Open communication with your kids is the best tool you have at your disposal. Teach your child to be polite and considerate while communicating with others on the internet. But tell her to refuse to trade photographs or reveal personal information of any kind like her name, address, phone numbers or even the name of her school.  Tell her to refuse to meet any internet ‘friend’ in the real world or answer mail that seeks personal information about herself or her family.

A child who spends long hours on the internet or exhibits secretive behaviour needs your immediate attention.  Do not be overly protective or melodramatic if you spot trouble. Don’t lay the blame on the child or ban her from using her computer. Instead, work on your relationship with the child and inspire her confidence. In this way you will know what is happening in her life and you will be able to help her.  The Information Highway is a fast lane. Approach it with caution and common sense to reap its many benefits.

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