As online bullying and stalking become common around the world and in India, parents need to more actively monitor their kid’s online activities, suggests a new McAfee survey.
The US security software company found that 89% of teens think online social networks are safe, despite two in three claiming to have at least one negative post associated with themselves on social-networking websites.
The survey, conducted in seven Indian metros with 750 parents and 757 teenagers and released on Thursday, found 67% of the kids had a bad experience after finding new friends online.
As many as 70% of the teenagers know they shouldn’t share their home address, but 40% still do, the survey found. And 74% know they shouldn’t share their mobile-phone number, but 30% did it nevertheless.
It’s not as if parents are not aware of this because 28% said their children might have put up their phone number on Facebook, the world’s largest social-networking website.
Cyber stalking and bullying, widely discussed in the West, are in fact pretty widespread in India, the survey found.
For the last six months, a 16-year-old school student in Chennai has been getting obscene emails from strangers. It started with her Facebook account—she got many friend requests from strange men, many of which were obscene as well. She changed her Facebook privacy settings, but her email ID had been part of her public information, and she started to get emails.
“I changed the settings and thought that stopped the harassment, but the mails started then. I’d block email IDs, mark them as spam, but it didn’t help,” she said, requesting anonymity. “I found it disgusting, and I didn’t know what to do about it.”
She has changed her ID twice now, and it finally seems to have stopped the stalking. Despite having been to a counsellor to discuss the matter, she’s still uncomfortable talking about it.
In Delhi, there was a recent incident of Facebook bullying, which spilled over into the real world as well. A 13-year-old boy was infatuated with a girl in his class. When the girl befriended him, he was ecstatic. A couple of weeks later, he went out of town with his parents on a weekend trip.
When he came back to school the next day, many people in school made fun of him and called him gay. He quickly found out that someone had accessed his Facebook account, and changed his interests to gay men. He changed these settings immediately, but continued to be taunted, and went into a serious depression for a while, his parents said.
“Children don’t always understand that there are long-term consequences to saying things online. Most of their posts will not get a reaction except for from their friends. So they start to think that they’re not really public. And then strangers might contact them, or just get their number from a public post,” said Chennai-based child psychologist Lakshmi Rajaram. “That’s why parents need to monitor what their kids are doing.”
Facebook requires members to be at least 13 years old (which can be easily circumvented by lying), but far younger kids are often using the Internet to look up details for a class report or to play games.
While the positive potential of the Internet can’t be overstated, responsible parents need to be aware of how the Internet is being used, said Anindita Mishra, a Pune-based writer, teacher and mother of two, who works as a cybermum for McAfee India. Her role is to blog about the dangers children face online as well as her ideas for steering clear of them.
In a smaller version of this survey in 2011, McAfee found 64% of the 9-12 age group that it surveyed were part of social-networking sites. The new study deals with older users, but the trends are similar. For example, 58% of the 2011 respondents shared their home address online.
“Parents are often very complacent about their children’s activity on computers. The fact is that kids are doing all sorts of stuff and you need to keep an eye on them to make sure that everything is okay,” said Mishra.
“This isn’t about policing your child,” Mishra said. “It’s about keeping your kids safe.”
To restrain unsafe online behaviour, Mishra said parents need to actively talk with the children and, if possible, be in the same room when small kids are on the Internet.
“You can download software that blocks sites and keywords, and if the kids want to use the computer to play a game, you should buy games to play offline,” she said. “You should also add your children on Facebook, so you can see what all they are doing. Don’t post there ever. It’s always embarrassing to the children. Instead, you should just be an invisible presence.”
How to stay safe
McAfee India Cybermum Anindita Mishra shared the following tips for parents:
*Ensure that communication channels are open between you and your kids so that they can approach you with any problems they face online
*Set up parental controls to determine the sites and content your kids can have access to
*Position the computer in your main living space
*Make it clear to your child that people in chat rooms are always strangers
*Make sure your child understands that they are never to reveal personally-identifiable information .Tell them about maintaining privacy during online communications so that they do not provide fodder for further harassment
*Instruct them never to reply to bullies. Rather take screenshots of pages to record the incidents of bullying
*Never leave a bullied victim alone for prolonged periods. Someone should always be around for comfort and support