The responsibility of creating a “safe internet for children” lies with parents, educators, and social media giants. This was the central theme of an IEThinc event on cyber security for children, organised by The Indian Express in association with Facebook. The panelists agreed that digital controls and locks are no replacement for parental involvement.
Dr Shelja Sen, child and adolescent psychologist, said that while technology has an effect on children’s social behaviour, it is unfair to blame them and see them as passive people who “just sit in front of the internet”.
She said, “That’s not true. They have very creative ways of doing things. Children get impacted emotionally (by technology and gadgets)…and socially it is impacting them, but we cannot put the blame on children alone — everyone needs to come together and get involved with the child.”
The panelists also spoke about how children “seek acceptance” at home, and when they don’t get it, they look for it in the virtual world.
Speaking on the role of parents, Anindita Mishra, McAfee’s Cybermum in India, said parents must be involved in their children’s lives, and it’s important to have a constant conversation with the child about online safety and security.
“Break the ice, have a conversation with the child. (Besides,) one should have some of knowledge of cyber threats,” she said.
Ameeta Wattal, principal of Springdales School in Delhi’s Pusa Road, said social media challenges the “coping ability’ of children, making it difficult to cope with rejections in the form of, “say, fewer likes to a photograph posted online”.
“When one cannot cope, he bullies,” Wattal said, and went on to speak about “cyber messengers” in her school who reach out to a child who needs help as a result of her online activities.
On the legal implications of cyber bullying, Anyesh Roy, DCP (Cyber Cell), Delhi Police, said that bullying is not a cognizable offence.
“Unless there is some form of sexual harassment in the bullying case, no case is made out,” he said. The DCP said that most cases they deal with are basically of bullies who are friends of the children (victims).
Roy said that to deal with online sexual harassment, or “revenge porn” cases, the police have now equipped around 1,100 police personnel. “Now every police station has five trained personnel equipped to handle cyber crime cases,” he said.
Tannistha Datta, child protection specialist, UNICEF India, said it is important for parents to not judge their children for what they do online.
“It’s a world we have given them…. These children have known no other world,” she said.
Stating that “it’s good” that bullying is a non-cognizable offence, Datta said, “Data shows that it is children versus children. I don’t want a child victim against a child perpetrator.”
Uma Vishnu, associate editor, The Indian Express, who moderated the session, concluded the conversation with some introspection on the role of the media: “The media usually comes into the picture very late, usually after the worst has happened, say, a case of cyber bullying gone wrong. We can be more proactive by having more conversations of this nature.”