Yes, the Internet is a big bad wolf. And kids are way too savvy for their own good. That’s good – and becomes a problem only when that intelligence is not channeled in the right direction. Left to themselves, they’ll be quite happy enjoying all the goodies the Internet has to offer. As a digital parent – yes, I became one when we got our first home computer in 2002.
Now, I have nothing against the computer. In fact, I love the convenience of instant information. And let’s not forget that it makes it possible for me to be a work at home parent, the advantages of which cannot be argued with. But as I said, the point was to exercise control and discipline and educate my little genius who was born with keyboard-ready fingers.
When our precious P2 arrived, we were too excited for words. It was like every fantasy had come true. Imagine clicking to dialup the internet and visiting the whole world via that keyboard from the comfort of our home! So there was the devilish exorbitant bill which woke us up rudely and made us somewhat nocturnal, thanks to the reduced rates after 11 pm. Still – it was amazing to browse online, chat with friends across the seas, share photos and silly emoticons and hugs. Soon enough, we got a webcam that enhanced the joy.
Each time I sat at my computer, it was a cue to my son to come and park himself comfortably on my lap. After all he was 5 and the fascination of playing at the keyboard was never-ending. I cleverly found an online musical keyboard he could enjoy and produce sounds with…and soon, got a real Yamaha keyboard for him to practice his skills.
Greeting cards were his second love online. Some of the flash cards were such fun – watching things move on screen was exotic! Those were also the days of ICQ – anyone remember that site? I had a few friends on that network and we’d chat, aided by the webcam. One particular friend had hand puppets to amuse Vidur.
When I quit my job in 2004 to work from home, it was a relief because broadband arrived and internet bills were drastically reduced.
And then Vidur stunned me one day by typing a whole paragraph in a text file. We ooh-ed and aah-ed. Changing fonts and sizes was such fun.
Then he wanted to write a blog. Yes, at the ripe old age of 8, he wanted to write His. Own. Blog. We were thrilled, naturally and encouraged him.
At the same time, we were aware of the dangers of letting him loose online. We wanted him to be safe.
Here’s what we did. We educated him. We laid down the following non-negotiable rules:
- Never chat with anyone online
- Never email anyone without our supervision
- Never send a message before showing it to us
- Never give out personal information (and explained what that is – name, date of birth, location and just about any detail)
- Always show the draft/post preview before publishing the post – and one of us would be responsible for publishing
- Always keep us informed of his online activities
- Sit at the computer only if one of us was with him.
- Use the computer only at the specified time, not more, not less. We know how easy it is to get into the time-suck.
- Never sit at the computer for more than an hour at a time.
- Never download anything, ever, without telling us.
- Never do online what he wouldn’t do offline – using bad language or being discourteous
To help him, we turned on safe search and used privacy settings in the browser.
We had a password that he didn’t know for the internet connection, so had to ask us if he wanted to connect.
Initially we considered keeping the blog private/by invitation only – but decided against it as we thought it would be better to make him aware of the dos and don’ts and use the computer responsibly.
And oh, the computer was placed strategically, interior decoration be damned – so we all had a good view of the screen.
I wish there had been digital parenting apps like eKavach back then – but hey, we didn’t even have a smart phone until four years ago, by which time we had a reasonably responsible 12 year old who seemed to know more than we’d ever learn in this lifetime.
We were/are lucky that he took the rules we laid down seriously and followed them diligently. The trick is always communication, while making sure that he knew he could turn to us, no matter what. We made it a point to spend a lot of time with him, make him talk about his activities online. Even now, we keep stressing the importance of keeping personal information safe. We were particular about which websites he could visit.
I remember how we made up stories to emphasize the dangers of online activities. And yes, when we did get our smart phones, we did not allow him to play with them. His involvement stopped at bringing us the phone when it rang.
Besides the digital control – we encouraged his offline hobbies – sketching, music, reading. We took him out for a walk every day.
I am glad we educated him early about using the internet responsibly.
With all the social media messes we hear about – the last thing we want is for our children to get in trouble. The thing is – internet safety is not just about getting a virus in the system and computer security – with children using smartphones and other electronic devices like they invented them – the risk is too high. No matter what age they are – it pays to do everything we can to keep them safe.
Are you a digital parent? How do you keep your loved little ones safe?