Kids are vulnerable to online threats. Technology and smart parenting can help deal with the problem

A teenager in Delhi, a regular on social networking sites, recently updated her status message to ‘Parents away, alone at home.' In the next 20 minutes, two men entered her house and she was raped. Another teenager posted information about her family's long vacation in Kodaikanal. When the family returned, they found their house burgled. A class IX student uploaded his classmate's profile on Orkut along with her photographs and telephone number, and posted obscene comments to settle a personal score.

“Online concerns about tweens and teens are not what they were two years ago,” says Venkat Krishnapur, senior director of McAfee India that deals with security products. “The threat landscape has changed dramatically, especially in the context of how children of various ages in urban India use the Internet and how they are exposed to various forms of threats online.”

Accessing restricted sites

V. Rajendran, senior vice-president, Cyber Society of India agrees with him: “Children are not aware of the threats they face when they share personal information on social networking sites. Parents take pride when the kids are tech savvy, and gift them laptops without paying attention to safety concerns. When adolescents are allowed to access Internet in a separate room in an unguarded environment, there is every chance that they access restricted sites.” He advises parents to engage and participate in their children's online activity.

Web content providers should block and restrict access at source based on age, says R. Pradeep Kumar, CEO of buzee.in. “Also, keep a check on spam. For example, when a child clicks on a spam mail about a lottery win by mistake, it directs him to porn sites and other prohibited content, thereby eliciting vital information such as credit card numbers, from the child. Children fall a prey to such email marketing because of lack of awareness,” he says.

McAfee has launched Family Protection Software, a parental control programme, which helps parents get a better insight into the digital lifestyles of their children. “The software allows parents to block the categories of sites, filter them out, or block nothing at all but simply review online activity reports. Features such as online activity reports, age appropriate settings, and blocking of YouTube, games and websites, give parents a powerful tool to ensure their kids stay safe when using the Internet,” explains Krishnapur.

McAfee commissioned Synovate to conduct a study titled ‘How safe are Indian kids online?' across 10 cities — New Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Ludhiana, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad and Kochi. It covered 500 children (aged between nine and 17) and 496 parents.

It was found that children spend more hours on the Internet surfing for information, playing games, emailing friends and engaging in social networking and twitter. In the process, they share personal information such as postal address, telephone numbers, school details, and upload their photos and videos. Some even share the credit card details of their parents. Children access Internet from multiple points such as laptops, android phones and ipads.

Lack of awareness

However, awareness of threats such as cyber hacking, cyber bullying and cyber stalking is low. “The children get in touch with strangers and expose themselves to such threats. Many parents do not have the capacity to understand the problem. As GenNext is more computer savvy than their parents, they hide information. Effective monitoring with the help of security tools is the key,” insists Krishnapur.

“Allow Internet access only when they turn 12 or 13. Restrict browsing to limited hours. Parental monitoring can taper off once the kids are aware,” says S. N. Ravichandran, joint secretary of Cyber Society. He gives lectures on cyber security in schools and colleges. Once kids spend more hours on the Internet, they lose interest in outdoor activities. They lose their ability to work in a team. “Cyber crime doesn't recognise any borders. When a child visits a page on Facebook or Orkut, he also has access to inappropriate information. For example, there are sites that give tips on ‘how to commit suicide'. Parents should instil values in children,” says Ravichandran.

“Effective parenting is important,” sums up T. R. Vijayanand of Creative Labz. “Social media is a wonderful platform. Teach kids the positive aspects of this medium. Give them the freedom to browse; at the same time, make them understand how it ruins their mind and time when used inappropriately.”

Build trust

* Monitor and guide your child's online activity with the help of technology

* Advise kids not to share personal information online.

* Keep an eye on kids who spend late nights browsing the Net. Be alert in case the child is suddenly withdrawn or fearful.

Know more at

* http://blogs.mcafee.com/consumer/cyber-security-mum-india

* http://home.mcafee.com/advicecenter/default.aspx?id=ad_fis

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MetroplusJune 28, 2012