With teenagers now using digital devices as part of their daily routine, there is a growing concern about the inappropriate content they may be exposed to, especially on video sharing platforms. Globally, teenagers approximately spend 90 per cent of their time online.
Keeping in mind the internet safety for teenagers, YouTube recently announced that it will roll out new “supervised” Google accounts that will let teens or tweens (kids in the age group nine to 12) explore the streaming video service within boundaries set by their parents.
In the coming months, the video-sharing platform said in a statement that it would let parents use Google accounts to provide children with YouTube access that comes with content and feature constraints. The move, it added, responds to concerns about violence and other inappropriate content which may be viewed by minors on the massive video-sharing platform.
The news created a lot of buzz and sparked a debate on online safety and parental involvement in the digital safekeeping of their kids.
Asha Alexander, principal of The Kindergarten Starters, a school that has successfully incorporated digital and technological innovation in their curriculum for students from KG1 to Grade 5, opined that children should be taught about internet safety from a young age. She said: “The forbidden fruit is always attractive especially to teenagers. It is necessary to allow children to navigate cyberspace early on so that students understand the consequence of straying to sites that might be potentially harmful. If internet safety is taught in schools in the primary years, students understand how to handle a device and behave ethically online.”
Alexander added that it was all about trusting your child and holding him or her accountable for their actions. “Every device is a potential hazard if it is not used in a safe manner following the prescribed rules. Adolescence is not the time to introduce a device as students are naturally curious and have the urge to explore. Besides, we give ourselves too much credit as parents and educators that we can ‘control’ how children use devices. Communicating expectations clearly and helping students navigate cyberspace in an ethical and safe manner will enable students to explore and be conscious of the dangers that the internet poses. It is up to us. We won’t hand a car to a teenager with no previous experience of driving, then why would we do that with a device?”
Expressing happiness at the YouTube parental-control policy, Dr Brian Gray, principal at Springdales School in Dubai, said the move will help tweens keep away from groups that are targeting youngsters by providing inappropriate content. “Essentially, the internet is not safe for impressionable minds of kids with its distorted reality in relation to social norms, social isolation, fake news, extremist ideas and general misinformation. Since parents are the primary gatekeepers and managers of their teens’ internet experience, their only option parents are monitoring and educating on how to safely navigate. Parent awareness is key and the must know how to balance between support and allowing autonomy.”
Emphasising the coordination required between different regulators when it comes to Internet safety, Dr Asad Sadiq, Consultant Psychiatrist at The Psychiatry and Therapy Centre in Dubai, added that Internet safety is a collective responsibility of regulators, social media companies, schools and parents. “They all need to work together to ensure that the Internet is safe for children. However, this is not happening world-wide, largely because of a lack of co-ordination. Yes, parent-approved content is the future of internet safety for teens. Parents can keep their children safe through using applications and filters to ensure that their children have to access only to content that is safe (such as Net Nanny). Prior to this they should sit, discuss and agree with their children about accessing content which is safe.”
But he added that to do so, it is imperative for parents to educate themselves about the internet, social media and other online applications. “Parents should have accounts themselves on applications their children use. Teens need to be taught how and what to post. Parents need to check the minimum age requirements for using social media applications. There need to be some ground rules to ensure a safe virtual world.”
Is social media safe for teens?
Social media has many benefits for teens including connectivity with friends (especially during Covid-19 times) and family, sharing of ideas and interests, learning and education and creativity.
“The dangers of social media are two-fold: direct effects like cyber-bullying and online predators; indirect effects like lowered self-esteem and impaired mental wellbeing. Social media is not safe for teenagers unless they are educated about it by school and parents, and its’ use is regulated (especially in early teens). The risks to safety include threats such a cyberbullying that cause depression and anxiety and can even lead to suicide; online grooming (and predators) can lead to sexual abuse; children can reveal personally identifiable information which can put them at risk, said Dr Asad Sadiq, Consultant Psychiatrist at The Psychiatry and Therapy Centre in Dubai.
Talking about how unbridled use of the Internet by youngsters can become an addiction, Dr Vinod Shukla, Associate Professor (of Information Technology) at Amity University Dubai, said if left unchecked teenagers may become addicted and obsessed with social media applications. “This addiction eventually leads to loneliness, boredom, stress, depression, anxiety and a sense of disconnection from reality. These are some of the few early signs for parents to observe if they suspect that their child is becoming an addict. Teens tend to compare themselves to others online. This is particularly dangerous as it not only lowers self-esteem but can also lead to depression, eating disorders, sleeping disorders, and many other related problems.”
Mention some other evils unchecked social media usage can lead to, Dr Shukla added: “Teenagers are inclined to meet people online and explore online relationships. This can be harmful and dangerous. Another addictive phenomenon is online gaming among teenagers, where they often start participating in online gaming for fame, rankings, rewards and money.
Gaming addiction is recognised as a clinical disorder, said Dr Asad. “Violence, whether in games, or on the media, is the same. There is a huge level of ignorance of the effects of gaming violence on teens. Parents often will be careful not to let the teen watch an 18+ film but will be blissfully unaware that their 11-year-old child is playing an 18+ game. It’s very important to adhere to the age limits set for games and Netflix series and films etc. The AAP (American Academy of Paediatrics) and the AACAP( American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry) endorses the view that exposure to violent media can contribute to real-life violent behaviour and harm children in many ways.”
Ways to keep the virtual world safe for teens
There is no single formula or technique by which this can be done, but there are certain habits and activities that we can inculcate in children and parents, said Dr Vinod Shukla, Associate Professor (of Information Technology) at Amity University Dubai.
“Proper education and orientation around cyber safety should be the main priority, and this should be done on a timely basis by parents and schools. Some best practices to consider is limiting the usage of online devices at home. Parents should ensure to monitor social media activity, in a non-intrusive way. Parental control on certain applications, website and tv streaming networks. Password protection on adult applications will help limit a child’s exposure to violent games and inappropriate content. Spending time with children and listening to them should be a priority. Sports and community engagement are great ways to ensure that children are engaged, active and fit.
Basic strategies to help children with gaming addictions:
- Check the age rating for the game or film or series
- Play video games with children to understand their world
- Reduce screen time to less than 2 hours outside academic work
- Encourage alternative activities like sport
- Set rules and be firm on them
- Put the console or computer in a place where you can see it
- In extreme situations, it may be important to take the console away and for the child to go cold turkey until he/she realises that he/she can survive without it
- Help from a professional may be required
Signs your child is addicted to gaming
- They play for hours on end and the game becomes their world in that they are always talking about it
- The teen may often become very aggressive and angry when stopped from playing
- Sleep may be affected by daytime tiredness
- Impaired school performance (grades dipping below expectations)
- Depression and loneliness
- Physical symptoms like joint pains, headaches, red or dry eyes, neck pain, fatigue
- Doesn’t have time to eat, or food intake decreased
- Withdrawal from friends, family and social activities
- Some ground rules to ensure a safe virtual world:
- The computer should be in a common area and not in bedrooms (especially early teens)
- There needs to be a daily screen limit (computer, mobile, gaming, TV)
- Require (early teens) to add you as a friend on their social media account
- Stick to the age limits of virtual and internet applications and games
Courtesy: Khaleej Times