Parenting,  Stories

Look who’s online now: Your kids

Gone are the days when kids would be out on the streets to play patintero, or come home late from playing hide and seek. Children now have smartphones, ready to navigate the world wide web at a click.

While technology remains a two-sided coin, parents now play an even more important role in guiding children on how to deal with technology.

Jonas delos Reyes, digital strategist, marketer and entrepreneur, said he doesn’t see technology as an option for children nowadays but a given. “It’s really a question of ‘how’ and ‘when’, because it is something inevitable for their generation,” he said.

“Our kids today are all digital natives and interacting and using technology as early as now is something inherent to them. Their use of gadgets and connecting to the internet allow them to augment their learning and help them in other areas like language and grammar, cognitive development and entertainment. But technology can be a double-edged sword that can be harmful to children if left unchecked and unregulated by parents,” he emphasized.

The online world because of its vastness is rife with risks. Online dangers such as identity theft, sexually explicit content, violent games, online viruses, trolls, bullies, and stalkers exist in a seemingly dreamy wonderland of freedom and mind-numbing engagement.

Thus, parents should serve as both gatekeepers and guardians when children go online. Here are some ways to help you and your children stay on track:

1. Be proactive.

The main way to do this is to get involved – though not in a helicopter parenting way – in your children’s online life. Recommend appropriate websites and mobile apps to your children. Research and look for child friendly websites or mobile apps which your children can visit or play. This way, you will also be able to help your children learn and process what they see online. You can even go as far as playing the game yourself, or using the website regularly.

“For my daughter, the apps that she will normally play will be Minecraft, Roblocks, and Terraria. She would also regularly watch videos on YouTube. The other apps that she’s allowed to play with are just a mix of various activities or games like storybook apps from Disney or an app that lets her dress up a doll or a puzzle game that she needs to solve,” shared Delos Reyes.

2. Filters, please.

Spam can get crazy, and digital algorithms can go wild, not to mention the porn ad that pops out of nowhere. Thus, it is best to filter content at the onset. Check the settings of mobile apps and websites, such as Google Search and YouTube to choose content suited for children.

“One good example here is YouTube videos. It’s easy to look for videos online about Disney princesses but once you start watching one video, the platform just serves you more videos. Thus, you wouldn’t know if the video uploaded is fit for your children, or even it it was supposedly about Disney princesses,” Delos Reyes advised.

Your children should be spared the possibility of stumbling upon something that could be a Pandora’s Box for dangerous curiosity. Install accountability software like Covenant Eyes, which automatically blocks “unholy websites” like porn sites.

3. No ‘outsmarting’ social media platforms.

Guidelines and rules of the platforms are there to safeguard users from online risks. It would be wise for parents to respect them. Take for example, Facebook which is supposedly for people 13-years old and above. It’s not unusual for children to pose as someone older than their age just to create an account.

“Do not allow your children younger than 13 to already create an account in social networking site and connect people they may know or worse, don’t know. Pedophiles are known to pretend to be children or teenagers as well and they create online personas to stalk children,” Delos Reyes said.

4. Strangers are strangers.

Remember the rule “Don’t talk to strangers”? This remains true online. Remind your children to be careful about people they chat or communicate with. They should never accept friend requests, or exchange messages with people they don’t know, unless you can vouch for these people.

Encourage your children not to share sensitive or private information online – home addresses, mobile numbers, birthdays, and other personal data. These can attract online impersonators who can use such information against your children.

5. Set ground rules.

Have a set schedule for being online. Parents shouldn’t encourage the habit of anytime, anywhere access for gadgets. Better if your permission is needed before they can log in, so you can be with them when they go online.

Also, this will help your children balance online and offline activities. While they learn things online, they must also develop and discover new skills and talents offline. “Expose her to an environment that instills good habits in learning, practicing, and training,” Delos Reyes said.

Managing social media and other online activities is quite a juggling act, but let this in itself be part of your evolving relationship with your children. Let your children understand and appreciate the importance of moderation and discipline. When they learn this, they themselves will grow up to be truly smart digital natives, making the best of both worlds.

Rachel Marie Dangin

Having taken up BA Mass Communications. She started as a broadcast journalist in a leading TV network, and moved to corporate communications in a bank. She is currently taking up her master's in communications in UP Diliman.

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