Children and unsafe online places

28 Jan 2022 08:22am
Illustrative purposes only (Source: 123rf)
Illustrative purposes only (Source: 123rf)
Spending too much time online is not safe for anyone, more so children.

The internet in itself is not the focus here. It is what people (including children) do with the access they have.

Parents and guardians are responsible for the children under their care, so safeguards and controls need to be in place.

There are a range of possible consequences from exposure to online spaces which depend on a child’s resiliency, personality traits, learning style, and online support network.

On one hand, the child may develop a repertoire of technology skills faster than an adult and obtain knowledge beyond structured school lessons that may be beneficial to his/her adult life.

On the other hand, the consequences may be negative.

For instance, the child will lose out on essential face to face social and language interactions that are vital for holistic development.

Eyes will get strained and eventually there will be more children in need of glasses that could be avoided or delayed if online time was better controlled.

The child may have problems in differentiating the cyberworld from the real world, and develop internet addiction.
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Recent research in Peru by Malamud et al (2019) found that “increased access to the internet at home did not improve academic achievement, cognitive or socio-emotional skills, which are arguably the more important outcomes of such interventions”.

Gaining knowledge in itself is not wrong, but what one does with the knowledge may be.

From a victimology point of view, the more time vulnerable children spend online, the more and longer opportunities for them to be exposed (whether unintentionally or purposively) to negative elements and criminal victimisation... being manipulated, used, abused, coerced, unjustly influenced, persuaded, and/or groomed by unscrupulous people.

From a criminology point of view, as more and more children spend longer time online, the pool of potential victims widen for criminals, and this pool is not limited to a specific geographic location or time.

Longer time online gives rise to increased social learning of norms and values which may contradict a family’s, ethnic, cultural or religious identity because interactions become borderless.

This can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your own point of view.

At risk children may learn attitudes and behaviours, and develop cognitions that are inappropriate for their age, level of maturity, and world view. It is therefore vital for parents and guardians to have knowledge and skills to protect and educate their children from being preyed upon by online users for example online predators who target children for their own nefarious reasons, including sexual gratification, power, control, and grooming.

Many apps/social media platforms for children and young adults have inappropriate content and interactions.

This is because predators purposely seek out such apps and reach out to children or make themselves available for children to find them.

Malaysia’s Child Act 2001 states that parents or guardians are responsible for all children aged 18 years and below.

To an extent, this gives parents the reasonable right to check on children’s gadgets to ensure environments are safe.

Parents and guardians have a protective role in their children’s lives and there are several ways to make online spaces safer for children.

These include: having access to the internet only in common areas, instead of individual rooms; and have time-controlled access so that children do not miss out on family interactions or develop anti-family interactions.

Most importantly parents must set a role model for these efforts and should not claim parental privilege when it comes to online access.

Children learn not only from words said but also from behaviours observed.

It takes minimal effort by parents and guardians to obtain the knowledge that is already available and keeps on getting updated, to ensure that children under their care are in safe online platforms and interactions.

Assoc Prof Dr Geshina Ayu Mat Saat is a psychologist and criminologist under the Forensic Science Programme, School of Health Sciences at Universiti Sains Malaysia Health Campus. She is also a columnist with Sinar Daily.
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