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Tech-ing to water like fish

RACHNA BISHT-RAWAT
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TREND Ensuring your kids’ safety no longer means making sure they get home before it gets dark. Children as young as 10 or 11 are getting their first smartphone, which brings the world to their bedroom

Alert kids to the dangers in cybervilleA child browsing the internetPhoto: C. Ratheesh Kumar
Alert kids to the dangers in cybervilleA child browsing the internetPhoto: C. Ratheesh Kumar

The statistics are scary, something the parents of a new, smartphone carrying, Internet-geeky, younger generation have to open their eyes to. The fact is that more children can play a computer game than ride a bike and as many as 81 per cent of under-two-year-olds have some kind of digital footprint with images of them posted online.

According to Internet Security Provider TrendMicro, 93 per cent of 12- to 17-year- olds are online; one in three have experienced online harassment; 75 per cent of 12 to 17-year-olds have cell phones and one in seven has received sexually suggestive images via text of someone they know. Parenting has become more difficult than ever.

Ensuring your kids’ safety no longer means making sure they get home before it gets dark. Children as young as 10 or 11 are getting their first smartphone, which brings the world to their bedroom. Almost every kid has Internet access in the house and most of them are on Facebook. With great power comes great responsibility. Who would know the significance of this line better than the parents of pre-teens who can be found bending over their laptops, chatting on Facebook or playing games on their smartphones. Delhi-ite Deepti Pareek’s 12-year-old daughter got a smartphone for her birthday. “We weren’t very keen that she have it, but all her friends did. So it was like bending under peer pressure. We didn’t want her to feel left out,” says Deepti. She says the gadget is useful to keep in touch with her when she is alone but it does mean she and her husband have to be vigilant about how the little girl is using her cell phone. “At the moment, I see her using it as a toy, she doesn’t make many phone calls or use it so much for texting, but she has downloaded a pet cat and some games that she spends time on,” says Deepti, adding that some of her friends with teenage children have had to confiscate their cell phones because they were using them for excessive texting and it was proving to be a distraction from studies.

Ruby Sandhu could pass for a helicopter parent. She admits she is the typical Asian Tiger Mom. “Kids should not be given access to cell phones or the Internet till they settle down to serious studies,” she says vociferously. “All these are distractions that will divert them from their studies.” Mother of a 19-year-old engineering student, who did turn out well, she admits that she kept an eagle eye on what he was doing during his school days, putting a lock on the Internet, and keeping tabs on just how frequently he was using his cell phone. When his dad bought him a PS3, Ruby locked it up in the house and handed it over only when she wanted to. “I was really strict but it helped him get where he wanted,” she says.

The old order changes

Most parents would not be very comfortable doing that. “The old order changes…” says Anjana Joshi, academician and parent of a single child in his teens. “As parents, we have to become sensitive to the needs of the child and adapt to the change in environment. Apart from giving my son access to the latest gadgets, we have tried to respect him as a thinking individual. Often, he can advise us on the latest technology, or even finance or ethics. Traditionally, we might fear that freedom spoils the child, but it empowers them too, and makes them feel more responsible,” she says. “Remember they emulate us or their peer group. So if we are morally upright, hardworking and well behaved, there is no reason why our children won’t be the same”. The problem that Deepti says she finds in most cases is that parents are willing to give their kids the latest technology but when it comes to the responsibility of explaining its dangers or even about the birds and the bees, most felt: Oh! They are too young to understand all that. “If they are old enough for one, they are obviously old enough for the other. That is the stupidest thing to do. You are letting them out in the Internet space without warning them about the dangers lurking there. And then you go around with crossed fingers hoping that nothing undesirable is happening behind your back.”

The fact is that there is no choice before parents. You can’t keep your kids away from technology in this era. It is just like letting them out into the world. You have to let go one day. But yes, it’s a good idea to tell them what they need to fear and stay away from. Ultimately, the only thing parents can do is try and inspire confidence and hope that they have taught them the right things in life which will help them find their way on the Internet highway.

RACHNA BISHT-RAWAT

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