Indian parents have finally caught up and are discussing the risks of being online with their tech-savvy children, according to Intel Security Teens, Tweens and Technology Study for India 2015.
The study which had 2,370 participants (1,185 parents and 1,185 children from the ages of 8-16 years), claims that while 81 per cent of the children are already active on social media (77 per cent even had a Facebook account before they were 13), more than 91 per cent parents are now having a conversation about online risks. And what are the parents focussing on? Cyber criminals, privacy, cyberbullying, and online popularity.
Intel Security, previously Mcafee, has been conducting this research in India for the last five years. “Stranger danger is definitely one of the biggest risks that children in India face when going online,” says Melanie Duca, Consumer Marketing Director at Intel Security. She points out that in the survey half of the child participants said they have met or would meet someone they had only met online before.
“Just like you would warn your children about strangers in the street, parents need to do the same when it comes with online behaviour as well.”
As there have been disastrous cases when children have been befriended by strangers online.
“I can give one example. A 13 year old boy was held to ransom by some strangers, he had added online. He even ended up using his parents credit card to buy that stranger gifts. The parents only got to know when the bill came and at first they thought their child was a thief. It was only later, when they brought him in for counselling, they realised that the child was a victim. So you see very often children don’t know what to say or do when such incidents take place,” says Dr Sunil Mittal, a Senior Psychiatrist at the Cosmos Institute of Mental Health Health & Behavioural Sciences (CIMBS).
The other worry with Indian children is the amount of personal data they appear to share online without realising the risks. For example, the study shows that of the participants, 69 percent have put up photos online, 58 per cent posted their email id, 42 put their phone number online. The study also notes that compared to US and Singapore (70 per cent) , Indian students have a much higher usage of social media (81 per cent).
Even if you take strangers out of the picture, cyber-bullying is the other big issue that most children face in India with 52 per cent of the participants having engaged in some form of cyber-bullying themselves. The school yard bullying has now just moved on to Facebook, WhatsApp or other social media forums.
According to cybermum Anandita Mishra, who has been blogging about the issue for some years, parents need to up their tech knowledge as well. “Parents need to understand that a lot of trolling also happens anonymously and they need to talk to their child. They also need to understand that children are moving away from Facebook and that there’s WhatsApp, Snapchat, Vine, Twitter, etc,” she says. Her tips for keeping children safe online.
“Read about the apps they are using. Also set some ground rules. Tell them Internet access is a privilege and that it can be taken away if they misuse it,” adds Mishra.
Being online for many kids is also a form of seeking validation, points out Melanie Duca. “They want those likes to come in and instead their friends post nasty comments, then it is really affects their self-esteem,” she adds.
Intel for its part has been come with a “Education Digital Wellness Curriculum” to educate schools and even parents about the risks of online behaviour.
“So we’ve been running these programmes in schools in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Assam. We also have quizzes in schools which is a good way of educating children about what to do online and what not. We’ve also created volunteer teams that educate parents, children about the online world,” says Venkat Krishnapur, head of operations for Intel security.
But what happens in cases of extreme bullying, are parents ready to go to the police? “It’s a mixed response from parents over cyber-bullying. Look if it is very severe bullying, some parents don’t hesitate to bring in the police. But then if it is a case where some sexual violence has taken place, then parents are hesitant because they are worried about reputation,” says Dr Mittal.
While police and school intervention are important, it appears that for many kids the biggest fear factor is still their parents. According to the study, 56 per cent of children said they would change their online behaviour if they knew their parents were monitoring them. And with more parents ready to have the conversation, it appears that some change has taken place.