More parents are taking action to better protect their children from online harm, as children are spending more time on their devices for learning, communication and entertainment.
At the recently concluded Internet SMART parenting initiative, a collaboration with the Flow Foundation and the Child Protection and Family Services Agency, parents expressed a growing need for learning how to safeguard their children as kids are spending more time online than ever before.
Some of the primary risks children face include cyberbullying and exposure to inappropriate content and harmful individuals. According to UNICEF, more than a third of young people across 30 countries report being cyberbullied. Additionally, around 80 per cent of children in 25 countries report feeling in danger of sexual abuse or exploitation online. These figures present a picture of the existential threat our children face and the challenge the Internet SMART Parenting initiative was meant to address.
Natassia Hodges-Brown, a participant at the session at Irwin Primary School in St James, said she counters the risks by giving clear instructions to her children on what to do and not do.
“I encourage my children not to accept every link they receive or friend request as most of these are malware (virus) and persons on the net are not always who they claim to be,” Hodges-Brown said. “I also advise them not to meet up with persons who they meet online and teach them the importance of protecting their personal information which also helps to keep our family safe.”
Hodges-Brown added that her work life doesn’t always allow her to monitor her children’s internet use as much as she’d like and that the Internet SMART Parenting session provided invaluable tools and knowledge to help protect her family.
“This initiative is very important as it helps us as parents to educate our children on the dangers of the net and teach them how to be safe while online. We also learnt ways we can track our children by using different apps that can be used to restrict certain access,” she said.
Chevelle Snow, another parent of Irwin Primary, said one of the biggest lessons for her was balancing screen time with outdoor activities and ensuring her son is comfortable to discuss anything with her.
“My hope is to create that safe haven where my son feels comfortable to talk to me about anything and in the same breath promote a healthy lifestyle by being actively engaged outdoors,” she said. “I want to develop a well-rounded child so I have to schedule time to engage in outdoor activities to reduce the amount of time spent on devices.”
Snow said one her biggest online concerns is her child’s exposure to paedophiles. To counter this, she has open conversations with her son and gives reasons why some content should not be shared online. Snow admitted that working long hours sometimes impacts her ability to effectively monitor her child’s online activity, however, engagements such as the Internet SMART Parenting session provides the information and reinforcement needed.
“It's important because first it educates us as parents about what's happening on the internet and what our children are exposed to. In addition it helps us to have the necessary conversations with our children about safe usage of the internet and at the same time encourage us as parents to monitor our little ones,” said Snow.
The Flow Foundation is an advocate for enabling progress through digital inclusion and playing its role to prepare Jamaicans for the new digital economy. Online safety has become a key focus area that must be part of the digital expansion.