THE BLOG

Be Watchful of Your Child's Online Activities

04/08/2015 15:47 BST | Updated 03/08/2016 10:59 BST

Many would argue that the current generation of children, particularly those in the developed world are fortunate enough to enjoy a number of worldly benefits that previous generations simply did not have. From state-of-the-art educational facilities to sophisticated gadgets that could barely have been imagined, the world has moved forward significantly over the past few decades.

One of the greatest inventions of our time has been the World Wide Web. The very ability to share information instantly in a number of ways across the globe is truly astonishing. One is able to use the internet for both personal fulfilments, for example, to ascertain their ancestry dating back several centuries. For many children, the internet gives them the ability to do anything under the sun. The possibilities are endless - and it is this very fact which makes the internet a potentially dangerous tool.

On one hand, the internet can be a wonderful educational tool that children are increasingly expected to use to support their learning. But on the other, it gives them the access to engage in a multitude of harmful or even dangerous activities such as watching pornography and cyber bullying; more recently the worry is that children could even be groomed for sexual exploitation or radicalisation.

It is for this very reason that parents, as role models for their beloved ones, must be extremely wary of how their children use the internet, what they watch and with whom they communicate. Mobile phones, watches and tablets may be a fashion statement but they carry health hazards.

Teenagers and children today are being brought up in an environment where there is less emphasis on social interaction with their friends in the playgrounds or parks. It is becoming part of a school child's nature to now spend more time on social media platforms. This clearly does have benefits as it enables friends to stay in regular contact with one another, often with people that are difficult to access due to geographical constraints or other reasons. There is also other benefit from having open communications - a fantastic example would be LinkedIn which, although aimed at older students, enables aspiring young professionals to connect with one another to further and fulfil their career ambitions.

However, there are many big issues and potential dangers associated with social media platforms. The likes of Facebook and Twitter, despite their numerous benefits, are a potential breeding ground for hatred and bullying. There have been many tragic stories of how cyber bullying can lead to stress, problems at school and even cases of suicide among teenagers.

Another danger involved with the web is the use of pornography and online dating. We live in an over-sexualised era where children are exposed to the opposite gender at an early age in a sexualised way. The adult industry is continuing to thrive and is growing to the extent that our children are, to a degree, feeling obliged to have physical relations with the opposite gender before they are ready. Rather than being considered for what they are, the opposite gender is constantly objectified - not least through online pornography and the profit-seeking advertisement industry.

Children are often impressionable and inexperienced in life; they can be further manipulated by the allure of 'online dating' - often taking the chance of meeting people they have never seen before. There have been far too many horror stories of how innocently planned dates have led to traumatic experiences, loss of innocence and even loss of life.

Most poignantly in this day and age, one of the greatest dangers that comes with this interconnected World Wide Web is that of radicalisation. Unlike the other dangers discussed earlier, the threat of radicalisation is not only harmful to single individuals and their families but to whole communities across the globe. What makes this especially worrying is that young children seem to find the appeal of terrorist groups - such as ISIL - more attractive, because of their slick propaganda of glamourising violence.

Vulnerable children who may feel out of place in a society, having little knowledge of their religion, disenchanted with the government's policy or for many of the other factors might be allured to 'fight back' as a means of expressing their disillusionment. In almost all instances of young children being radicalised online, the parents and families had no idea of what was happening to their loved ones. That this has been happening in front of our own very eyes behind a computer screen is a damning indictment of the threat we face.

As parents, we cannot simply sit back and let this narrative take its course; it must be within our disposition to do our best in protecting our children. First and foremost, we need to foster deeper and lasting relationships with our children that are built on love, respect and mutual trust. In doing so we must ensure that they feel comfortable in discussing any feelings and problems they may face at school or online.

Parents should make their best judgment, depending on the intellectual and emotional maturity of their children, when they should buy for them certain gadgets. Another useful tip at home may be to keep laptops or computers in communal areas so that children are subconsciously more wary of the pages they visit and click on. The use of parental controls to block certain content is another option that should be on the table. But the most important thing for parents to do is to continuously and lovingly talk with their child, individually and in a family setting, on all the issues that are relevant to them. This will not only help them grow with maturity and a strong sense of responsibility, it will also give them a sense of belonging to their own families.

Ultimately, we must acknowledge that in an ever-growing technological world we cannot and should not try to insulate our children from the world of technology. But we must be aware of the dangers that come with such a remarkable tool in order to make sure that our children make use of its myriad of benefits to develop into well-rounded adults, albeit without harm.

Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari is an educationalist, author and parenting consultant. Follow him on Twitter @MAbdulBari