Our children now often exist a different world to the one their parents and grandparents grew up with – a parallel, virtual world, enabled by the Internet and filled with various forms of social media. From Snapchat to Facebook, from Twitter to Instagram, most of their encounters in this virtual world are often harmless - friends sharing important, fun and happy moments. However there is a darker side to this new world and knowing what hides ‘under the hood’ of the engine of the internet and social media is essential if parents are to better understand and deal with the problems faced by young people as they navigate this world.
On the positive side, the Internet is a huge, comprehensive educational resource that offers our children unlimited opportunities for learning, entertainment and personal development. And the educational benefits of many social networking sites are well documented. One study from the University of Minnesota, examining the online habits of students aged between 16 and 18 over six months, found that social networks positively aid students to utilise new technology, learn creativity and communication skills, and enables students to practice and enhance new 21st century skills to make them more successful moving forward in their careers.
And nowhere is this more true than in Qatar, which has a very high percentage of Internet and social media users. According to a report by the Ministry of Transport and Communications (MoTC) a whopping 95% of the total population of Qatar uses the Internet. Such usage has been growing rapidly every year increasing from 85% in 2013 to 95% in 2017. And while we can take advantage of this superb access, we also have to be cautious about the drawbacks, especially for the young, with the constant possibility to fall victim to online threats, exploitation and worse.
The Internet offers an entertaining and informative escape from the mundane realities of everyday life. But parents often forget that the online world presents many of the same risks as the real one. Being young should be about discovering who you are and spending time with your friends, but the journey from child to adult can be difficult enough - studying for exams, gaining qualifications, seeking employment, looking for that perfect job opportunity - so no young person should have to worry about online bullying, the unwanted attention of strangers, or living up to the expectations of their peers.
Cyberbullying refers to the use of online services to bully or harass a person with the intent to affect them socially, psychologically or even physically. Examples of this behavior include sending abusive texts and emails, online stalking, or sending inappropriate images and videos, etc. Cyberbullying affects the victim’s mental state and confidence adversely.
Sometimes, children can access to inappropriate, offensive or illegal content available on the Internet whether knowingly or unknowingly. This content includes pornography, videos of sexual abuse, religious extremism, strong political views, crime, violence, and the use of drugs. Such content can be distressing for children and manipulate their social and political views.
While accessing online media, children can get carried away and share too much personal information to strangers. This personal information may be in the form of messages, images, videos, bank details, credit/debit card details, etc. Such information can potentially harm the individual and his/her family financially, mentally, or even physically. It can lead to criminal acts against the person or the family, blackmail, and identity or financial fraud.
Online media enables children to communicate with strangers or persons who they haven’t met in real life. The anonymity feature of online media allows miscreants to hide their true identities and gather personal information from children. This poses a serious threat to them and to the family, including the possibility of sexual abuse, kidnapping, and extortion.
For a number of years now the Ministry of Transport and Communications have been raising awareness among youth and parents in Qatar about online safety through a series of ad campaigns. More specifically, these campaigns aim to raise awareness of cyberbullying and encourage better communication between parents, teachers and children to combat cyber all forms of online abuse. The MOTC encourages young people to take advantage of everything available through the Internet - and to have fun - but to remember that they should treat their online communications responsibly.
Also, the “Keep Them Safe, Keep Them Curious” campaign encourages Qatar’s parents and educators to be involved in their children's online safety and to give some basic tips for how to help be more cyber smart. Parents can also make a difference to their child’s online safety by simple actions such as postponing the child’s ownership of a smartphone or tablet for as long as possible, and by setting a good example through your own use of such technology (for example, not always appearing to be online, not using a smartphone whilst driving or at mealtimes, and keeping a casual eye on your child’s use of gadgets when they are in their rooms or out of sight.
Ministry of interior-Qatar has published some very important tips for parents regarding their child’s internet use and safety. They are following-
It is clear that by becoming more aware and following the tips related above, parents can make a real difference to the level of vulnerability their children face using all these new forms of technology. With the rise of the tablet and the smartphone, the threat to our children’s future wellbeing – and the solution - literally lies in all our hands.
How do you help your children to stay safe online? Let us know in the comments section below. And don't forget to like and share this article to allow others to stay informed!
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