The debate of whether we should let our young generation access the internet no longer exists, thanks to the pandemic that swept us by surprise and left us shocked and dependent on online tools and platforms.

Online schooling has exposed children to the ocean called the “ Internet” and this exposure is here to stay. What parents and educators can do is empower them to navigate through this ocean appropriately.

Before we delve deeper into this, here is a set of questions for parents and educators to ponder about.

  1. Is it important to teach your child to stay safe on the road? Why? What are the risks?
  2. Do we need to equip our children to deal with strangers on the road?
  3. Are there all kinds of people in our neighbourhood, town or city? Helpful? Harmful? Do we empower our children to face all kinds of dangers in the real world?

Most of us would answer a “Yes” to all these questions. If so, then we need to empower our children to navigate through the vast “online/digital world”.

Here are ways to support your child in inhabiting the online world safely :

  1. Empower them to ask questions when they come across any kind of online information. This will ensure that they are objectively evaluating information that comes their way. This may be demonstrated by asking them questions when they pass on digital information to you.

Who said this? What is the source of the data? Which website/organization has posted this information? Are they authorized to comment?

For instance, My child comes up to me and says “ I saw a video which states that Paris is the best place to live.” I hear the child out and ask “ What are the parameters based on which the video recommends Paris as the best place? Who has posted the video? Are they authorized to evaluate and comment? Is it an opinion or a fact? Do you also subscribe to that opinion or do you want to evaluate it independently?” This sets them to think that they need to evaluate information objectively and distinguish between fact and opinion before buying any argument passed on as a fact in the digital world.

  1. Once children are equipped to evaluate online data/information objectively, the chances are less that they will get carried away with “ Hate Stories” and “calls for action” that provoke emotion or a community sentiment toward doing unlawful or age-inappropriate activities.
  2. Instruct children not to pass on personal information online to any individual/website/organization either on social media or through emails unless permitted by you, List out the possible risks of sharing such information. Ask them if they would be willing to pass on personal information (like address and phone number) to strangers on the road? If No, then the same rule holds good for the digital world as well.
  3. Equip them with the Dos and Don’ts of making friends online. It is advisable to avoid making friends with online strangers. Sensitize children about the risks of making friends with strangers.
  4. Last, but not least, educate them about the viruses and hackers and how they need to consult you before downloading any information onto their devices. Explain the consequences of a virus attack for them to understand the magnitude of the problem.

While most of the above pointers appear to be guidelines for parents, they are relevant for educators too. Students are spending time online to gather data and information for their learning experiences as well as assessments. Educators need to sensitize students about the rights and duties of being a digital citizen.

Parenting and educating children of this millennium was never an easy task and that challenge has grown manifold post COVID. Having said that, we must educate and empower our children so that they can inhabit both the online and offline world safely and responsibly. Best wishes to all the parents and educators out there!!!

Posted by Ekya

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