November 16, 2014

Parents beware! Your children might be at grave risk online.

McAfee, the well-known computer security firm, has come out with a survey on social media behaviour of Indian children.

In its report issued last week, McAfee reveals that one-third Indian youngsters (8-19 years) have been cyber-bullied. It also says, while over two-thirds of Indian parents seem confident about their kids' online behaviour, more than half of the kids say they visit inappropriate content on the web and they are smarter than their parents in hiding their activities. What a disconnect!

The details should make parents worried, and they must take note and guide their children about what is right and what is wrong about online activities.

EARLY AND TOO MUCH EXPOSURE

52% of India’s youth of tween (8-12 years) and teen (13-19 years) ages access their social media accounts while at school and 27% on smart devices. Not much check on their browsing, it seems.Though the minimum age to register on social networking sites like Facebook is 13,  57% kids of 10-12 year age report daily access to internet!

SHARING IDENTITY, RISKING OWN LIVES

While 80% of Indian youth are aware that their online activity can affect their identity, 92% have done something risky online. Out of these, 70% have posted their contact details like email ID, phone and home address online. This puts them at great risk from cyber criminals. 

But read further to see how they don't stop at that.

ENGAGEMENT WITH STRANGERS

Youth are increasingly trusting unknown people in the virtual world in spite of being aware that it is risky. 53% have met someone in person after getting acquainted online. 63% of youth do not turn off their location or GPS services across apps, leaving their locations visible to strangers.

There does not seem much restraint chatting with strangers: 52 % respondents admitted chatting with strangers during online gaming and 49% on TV show fan pages. 42% tweeted live during chat shows by celebrities and others.

In trying to be more acceptable, about two-thirds of these youth re-invented their online personality, got bold and were ready to put themselves in danger to see more engagement. They felt more accepted online than in real life, especially when they got 'likes'.

CYBER-BULLYING AND ITS IMPACT ON KIDS' LIVES

About 50% of these online youth had some experience with cyber-bullying. This led to anger and embarrassment in the real world. Can we infer that cyber-bullying and other forms of deviant online behaviour might lead to a vicious cycle in which the young ones get more prone to such online and offline problems?

PART OF IT IS DUE TO IGNORANCE

More than half of the kids surveyed claimed that online risks did not apply to them: 55% thought they were not old enough to worry about their identity being stolen and 51% didn't care about having privacy online. 

WHAT DO THEY BROWSE?

Facebook was found to be the most popular site used (93%), followed by YouTube (87%) and WhatsApp (79%). Interestingly, 10-12 year olds reported higher daily access to Snapchat, Pinterest, Tinder, Tumblr and Vine than their teen counterparts. (The minimum age to register on these social networking sites is 13 years.)

PARENTS IN BLISSFUL IGNORANCE!

Only 46% say their parents have had a conversation with them about online safety. 52% said, their parents simply didn't care. About 64% hid their personalities so as not to be discovered by parents. Not only that, nearly the same percentage of youth thought their parents couldn't keep up with them when it came to technology.

In this survey, 711 male and equal number of female respondents from Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad and Pune were asked questions about their online behaviour. You can see more details of the survey here: internet behaviour of Indian tweens and teens

WHAT MUST PARENTS DO FOR ONLINE SAFETY OF THEIR KIDS?

Parents (and if they find themselves not up to the challenge, they must assign this job to a trusted guardian) must take care of at least the following so that children are not exposed to inappropriate content and cyber crime.

  • Try to learn technology and gadgets that your kids are using or are likely to use.
  • Know the risks of online presence. Before you can discuss these matters with kids, you must yourselves know the risks in using email, apps, chat and other tools for online presence.
  • Discuss things out with children. Do not pontificate; do not advise on matters in which they will not value your wisdom. 
  • Have supportive attitude when talking to them about such matters, especially when they are under cyber attack or they admit to having done something wrong.
  • With small kids, engage when they want to do online and even offline computer-related activities such as playing games. 
  • Try to understand the risks; promote activities that are interesting but safe if not educative too.
  • Disable harmful apps, settings etc on computers, laptops and other devices. Depending upon the child's age and understanding, do this after you have discussed these aspects with the child. The least, install a malware filtering firewall and block pop-ups. Enable parental control and safety settings on the browser.

Do visit our two-part series on kid blogging, which, we are sure, you will find relevant to this discussion.