When it’s about child safety in the virtual space, parents start asking themselves many questions: When are they supposed to be permissive and when should they be more restrictive? Do they understand the Internet enough, in order to be able to guide their children? Should they treat the Internet the same way as television or it’s about something else? In the context of the increasing attention towards this subject, the experts from „La Strada” dispel seven myths about the child safety on the Internet.
As stated by Angela Palancean, coordinator of the portal www.siguronline.md, usually the myths about child safety on the Internet tend either to exaggerate or to simplify the online risks that children are exposed to.
Myth 1 „The children born in the informational era know everything”
Studies in this field show that there are no „digital natives”, who would know how to use a computer avoiding the risks, only because they were born in the informational era. This statement is quite exaggerated. Children need help to develop their digital skills. In other words, a child can intuitively press some buttons and make the device work, but this doesn’t mean he/she has enough maturity to understand the consequences of his/her actions.
Myth 2 „Children must be protected from the Internet”
Every parent wants to secure his/her child from any kind of harm, including emotional. That is why, parents often get influenced by bad-ending stories heard on the news or TV programs that present Internet as absolute evil.
Children should not be protected from the Internet, as it was an enemy. Children should know that if rationally used, the Internet can be useful for learning or for spending free time in a constructive way. Contrary to the common opinion, children do not want to spend much time in the virtual space, but very often there are no alternative activities for them, such as games, trips, interaction and exploring. They have resources, which somehow need to be activated, used. Parents who believe that by hiding the phone/tablet they will immediately calm down all their worries, risk to lose their child, because he/she will always find some ways to access the Internet. It will happen while at school, while visiting a neighbor or a friend, or in an Internet Café, while the parent will lose the possibility to talk to the child about the potential risks and ways to avoid them.
Myth 3 „Children under 13 cannot use social networks”
Indeed, the majority of social networks recommend a minimal age limit, but this can be ignored. Many children aged under 13 manage to create and account in a social network, after indicating a different age in their profile description.
Myth 4 „Internet is full of harassers”
The truth is that the Internet did not „create” more persons who abuse children, it is just a new environment, similar to the real one, which offered the same people with harmful intentions the possibility to contact children, in order to reach their goals. Although women are more likely to attack than men, there are many cases of children abuse by women, including online. Also, a child can be sexually abused by other children.
In this context, discussions with children about how they feel or if they are aggressed by anyone in any way are very important. Instead of forbidding their children to use social networks, parents should concentrate on educating them and be careful to any sign that could indicate a risky behavior online.
Myth 5 „All you read on the Internet is true”
You can never be sure of the authenticity of information found on the Internet. That is why, it is always recommended to assess the veracity of information from an alternative source. This should be equally known by both: parent and child. When you choose to believe or not some information, the first thing you need to check is the URL. You can find out many details only from the URL. Does it end with “.gov” or “.edu” or with a name of a person?
Also, if the article indicates the author’s name, check him/her, and find out if the information published by this person can be true.
Myth 6 „Activities on the Internet do not stimulate creativity”
It is true that very few children created something or wrote something on a blog. Nevertheless, they can be creative, experimenting various possibilities on the Internet, which train their way of thinking and for which adults would never have enough patience.
Myth 7 „Installing the Parental Control Program is the only mean of protection”
An installed program of parental control is useful, but it doesn’t guarantee 100% of child safety online. Indeed, if the child has a very young age, you can choose the option of a Parental Control Program. Still, this method is functional only up to a certain age, after which, the child learns how to avoid restrictions, and the parent understands that he/she was overpassed by technology. In such conditions, discussions about safety rules, and child’s and other people’s behavior on the Internet are essential.