How Internet is shaping children’s lives

Seamless exposure of children to the world of Internet has compounded the challenge of parenting
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November is a month when children all over the world are focused and debated as future builders of a nation. We have two ‘Children’s Day’ observed in this month.

One is our National Children’s Day celebrated on November 14 and the second is a World Children’s Day marked on November 20. On both days, the issues confronting the children are highlighted and flagged for resolution.

Even as education and health are two major domains craving for children welfare policies, many children’s lives in the last couple of years have become ‘digital by default’ and the process continues. 

In other words, they are now in a world where they are ‘growing up digital’ and the vast expanding digital landscape has thrown a big challenge for the policy makers and more particularly to the parents when it comes to the welfare of children in any geography of the world.

Nevertheless, Covid-induced lockdowns complicated the challenges as millions of children across the globe found themselves enveloped in the whirlpool of the web.

Almost overnight, following the pandemic-induced lockdowns, children’s lives suddenly fell to the digital wave by default and became (and continue to become) reliant on digital infrastructures. On the face of it, the exposure of children to the world of the Internet is construed as a positive development on the premise that the digital exposure would make them understand things quickly and ultimately knowledgeable. But when we look at findings of some global research, the sudden reliance of children on the internet triggered during the years of the pandemic has more negative impact on their learning and development than the positives.

I have come across several parents of young children with some kind of disgusting Internet stories. Children stumbling onto a pornographic photos/videos or any other adult content has become common incidents and a huge cause of concern for parents.

Speaking in the local (J&K) context, the seamless exposure of children to the world of Internet has compounded the challenge of parenting. Otherwise also, owing to the three decades of turmoil, it has been a routine for most of the Kashmiri parents to encounter regressive behavior, anxiety, depression, aggression and conduct problems in their children.

To be precise, parenting has never been a child’s play here. For parents, this is a stressful time and further complicated as the children have boarded the cyberspace by default. All of us know the risks associated with cyber space are huge and even vigilant adults become victims of cyber criminals.

Today, millions of children are busy surfing the World Wide Web as Internet is a medium which lures them to explore destinations carrying unsolicited content, leaving a negative impact on their minds. Notably, not all children have the necessary knowledge, skills and resources to keep themselves safe online.

A UNICEF note in this regard is worth quoting. It says: “Spending more time on virtual platforms has left the children vulnerable to online sexual exploitation and grooming. A lack of face-to-face contact with friends has been leading to heightened risk-taking such as sending sexualized images, while increased and unstructured time online may expose children to potentially harmful and violent content as well as greater risk of cyberbullying.”

UNICEF and other world organizations have released a technical note aimed at urging governments, ICT industries, educators and parents to be alert, take urgent measures to mitigate potential risks, and ensure children’s online experiences are safe and positive.

There are innumerable stories where many children while exploring the fantasy of the Internet, and being unaware of cyber criminals were harmed. They realized that they had been victimized by a cybercriminal only when the damage was done. Many non-governmental organizations while taking note of the online risks for children in India have found that 53% of them in the age group of 8-17 have become victims of cyber bullying.

Cyber bullying is an act of harassing or harming a child’s psychology, confidence or morale. A cyber-criminal could be a stranger who gets connected to the child on the social network site. The stranger could persecute or harass a child by making unwarranted comments or posting objectionable content. A person known to the child can bully by resorting to mischievous behavior using the online channels.

In this scenario, when we talk of responsible parenting, we find the parents having inadequate knowledge about the need and safety measures to safeguard their children on the internet. Even they have little time or resources to ensure the safety of their children while exploring the Internet.

Precisely, the internet has become so invasive in the daily lives of our children that they are no less than a skilled manager of their free time, juggling technology, playing computer games and surfing the net. Children on the Internet without any surveillance and checks and balances are just like in any other potentially dangerous situation. It is to be remembered that parental neurosis is far more detrimental to childhood development than the ease at which the internet will corrupt the personality development of our children.

In view of the dangers confronting our children while using online channels of communication, more particularly the social media networking sites, there is an urgent need to run exclusive awareness programmes about the risks associated with Internet surfing for children. Here the government needs to establish special helplines across the region where parents and children can seek help to fight cyber bullying. The authorities can take up the issues with the social networking platforms and ask them to enhance safety and safeguarding measures, and develop standard moderation policies that are aligned with children’s rights.

Here schools too have responsibility. They have put in place safeguarding measures while making the students board the online classes. They have a responsibility to run awareness programmes about being safe on the Internet and also promote as well as monitor good online behaviours. 

As far as parents’ role in safeguarding their children is concerned, they have to ensure the Internet gadgets are regularly updated for them. They should ask their children on how and with whom they are communicating online. As a responsible parent, guide your children how to make productive use of the Internet. And they should never shut their eyelids if they notice inappropriate behavior of their children while on the World Wide Web.

Let me conclude with some snippets from Kahlil Gibran’s poem ‘On Children’:

Your children are not your children.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,

For they have their own thoughts,

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.

(The views are of the author & not the Institution he works for)

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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