Internet Safety for Children: A Humane Solution

Despite the fact that our children were born under a digital star and will soon be masters of the World Wide Web; the basic problem of navigating uncharted and potentially dangerous areas on the Internet still persists. The main challenge for parents and guardians is children don’t trust us as their filter. The generation gap makes our advice outdated, unrealistic or at best not ‘hip’. Children always listen to peers rather than us when it comes to mobile and Internet.

A recent international research by GSM Association shows 60% of youth aged 17 and 18 turning to friends for advice. Only 20% ask their parents, and none asked their teachers!

I have 2 teens in my home, 2 laptops, 1 desktop and recently had to bow to status symbol pressures and buy expensive tablets for both. I knew I’d be in trouble if I don’t come up with online controls, and fast.

First thing I realized is that ‘control’ and ‘friendly’ or ‘practical’ do not go well together, in fact, they are opposites; there’s no such thing as friendly control.

Second; no matter how sophisticated filtering software I buy, there’s always a way around it. There are sites that show how to crack software, cheat games, bypass filters, fake IP addresses and everything else that’s plain wrong, albeit exciting.

The great ‘control’ solution I wanted was apparently not a technical, but a human, get to know you better, let’s be transparent solution.  A technical solution was necessary but far from complete.

I started by putting basic, intuitive rules and watched them develop as we went along. Rules were interactive, meaning that I too, had guidelines and targets.. See this:

Tablets, laptops and smartphones don’t go to bed

Bedrooms are for sleeping, maybe reading a book [the old fashion one made of paper]. Moreover, you don’t want cellular devices to be so close to you all night, they emit low dose radiation and we’re not sure how safe or unsafe they are. (Send me any questions on this topic).

Bridge the digital gap

I always thought of digital gap as difference between rich and poor, therefore ‘bridging the gap’ was basically to raise level of ICT knowledge by providing training and equipment. That’s not all.. ‘Digital gap’ is also difference between old and young often living in the same home but with different online activities and habits.

So, here I was; an aficionado of the NewYork Times and National Geographic who had to open an account at Tumbler, had to follow Justin Timberlake and Miley Cyrus [Yuck]; chased my boy to know the games he admired so much. I agree, some were infatuating. Now I can’t think of a day without 20 minutes of Angry Birds [already becoming unfashionable]

Limits on location and duration of use

Use devices in a common area. This way, you can see what your children are doing. Being in the open by itself deters users from going into ‘no-no’ land.

I see that 2 hours on weekdays and 3-4 hours on weekends is fair. When I say ‘use’, I refer to all portable devices, including wireless game consoles.

Be a pal

Unawareness of our children digital habits is today’s version of neglect. Assuming they’ll do the right thing by themselves is asking too much and plain naïve. The Internet is a great place to learn and benefit but like any technology there is a dark and dangerous side.

Be a friend to your children, share experience and stories, explain online dangers like anonymous friendship requests, chain messages, spamming and mails calling for help.

Your children may still think of you as a dinosaur, but one that’s fun to be with.

Sherif Issa

Head of Environmental Sustainability at Orange Egypt
Sherif Issa Heads the Environmental Sustainability at Orange Egypt. He holds master’s in Civil | Environmental Engineering from City University of New York and a Bachelor degree from Cairo University. He is currently responsible for developing and maintaining the environmental management system of the company covering aspects of operations.
Sherif is a member in several focus groups and governmental committees like the Scientific Research of the National Council of Women and Environmental Education committee of the Ministry of Culture.

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