Red Alert

Take interest in what your children are doing for it will not only help them be an open book, you will also be able to satiate their curiosity without them misusing the Internet.

By Deeya Nayar-Nambiar

Surfing the Net is like an early morning cup of tea that makes you feel incomplete if you do not catch up with your friends, check e-mail or book movie tickets online. It has made the world a smaller place, but along with that it has also brought unforeseen influences on the young, curious minds. So it is essential to monitor your children when they are in cyberspace to ensure their physical, mental and psychological growth in a safe and secure environment. For this, it is necessary that parents acquaint themselves with the Internet to understand the warning signs.

Last year a 13-year-old Mumbai schoolboy from the upmarket Bombay Scottish School died while trying to perform a choking game, a fad among teenagers in the West. Though the death was initially attributed to suicide caused by academic pressure, his parents later came out to speak about the ‘choking game’ where participants strangle themselves in order to experience the high that comes with the deprivation of oxygen to the brain even though the website warns of the dangers but peer group influence encouraged the young lad to practice the lethal stunt.

Children often engage in activities they consider adventurous or fun. The Internet to a great extent serves children in their pursuits, be it finding new friends, updating their blog or getting entertained. Parents, however, are unaware of the dangers or even the existence of such popular activities. And even if they know, peer pressure makes most of them overlook the parent and child age difference as a ‘generation gap’.

The result is that cyber crimes involving children are on a rise on the Internet with the various chat rooms, networking sites and search engines encouraging forbidden activity. But again, in every case the Internet is also an information provider that binds people in the cyber world to your children. As said by author Parry Aftab in her book The Parent’s Guide To Protecting Your Children In Cyberspace says, “Information does not harm children, people do.”

Concerned parents have started self-help groups to educate their children about the dangers and also to increase their knowledge of the same. But there are many parents who are not even aware of the basic Internet operations and these groups help to explain the concepts. Although well-read and competent professionally, they are often unable to distinguish harmful data for themselves that becomes a handicap in protecting their child.

A number of filter programmes such as NetNanny, CyberPatrol, CyberSitter, SurfWatch can stand guard against these dangers. Filters not only block out content that you do not want your child to access but also monitor the general content viewed and help you keep a tab on the time spent on the site. It can also help you to trace and protect your child from strangers on chat rooms.

For example, with CyberPatrol you can customise the filter levels depending upon you child’s age and decide how much of your personal information is open to the world. It can even limit the amount of time a child can use the Internet. There are even websites like to help parents ‘block’ harmful or inappropriate websites. But the hitch is that in most cases once the free trial period is over, you must to buy the software if you wish to continue using it.

Here is a simple way to monitor your computer’s activities. Begin with looking into the machine’s history. Click on the Start button on the left corner of your main screen and go into My Computer -> C: -> Local Settings -> History. The history tells you the websites that have been visited along with the day date and time. You can also go and view the web pages for yourself. You can then block the website by customising the settings of your Internet browser.

An alternative method is to click on the Start button and select Run. Type c:\WINDOWS\system32\drivers\etc\hosts in the Run box. Choose to open the link in Notepad. It will display some cryptic information. Just go to the last line of the file, hit the Enter key and type the name of the website with the number

For example, if you wish to block the networking site, your last line should read Save the file and exit. Likewise, you can block as many websites as you like with the above technique. If you want to remove the ban later, repeat the process and delete the name of the website from the last line.

Ask your children to help you with operating the machine and search engines and try working together. If you still feel your child is getting addicted to Internet, move the computer out of the kid’s bedroom to a more visible location, assign reasonable time limits, and encourage more real-life activities with family and friends. There is also no harm in taking professional help for your child’s Internet addiction.

It is easy to attribute the mistakes of a child to bad parenting but you need to realise that there is no better way to protect your child than being vigilant. Teach them the rules of computer safety and leave it to them to decide right and wrong. Take interest in what they are doing for it will not only help them be an open book, you will also be able to satiate their curiosity without letting them misusing the Internet.

But you can understand your children better by being a friend first and a guardian later. It becomes even more essential for parents to maintain close relationship and open communication to ensure they stay connected through all stages of their upbringing.

BTW, February 4, 2008

2 thoughts on “Red Alert

  1. Well written, thank you for sharing such important information with other parents.

    Parry Aftab
    Executive Director and author


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