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Study reveals perils children face online

Karthik Subramanian
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8 to 12 year olds surveyed; cyber bullying, chatting with strangers some of the risks

The youngest digital natives of the country — those in the age group of eight to 12 with access to the Internet via multiple devices — are prone to the dangers of cyber bullying and getting drawn into malicious social engineering schemes, a study has warned.

Online security solutions provider McAfee on Wednesday released its ‘Tweens and technology report 2013’ in the city, and followed it up with a panel of educationists and technologists discussing the problems children face while browsing the web.

The report was based on a detailed survey of 1,000 children in tier-1 cities of the country.

Some of the study’s findings indicate that new-age parenting will have to walk the tightrope of providing access and at the same time ensuring that youngsters don’t become victims. For instance, nearly 36 per cent of all online tweens (defined in the study as those between 8 to 12 years) have chatted with a stranger online, the report said.

Nearly 45 per cent of online tweens had access to the internet post 8 p.m. Nearly 91 per cent of them were either playing games or chatting with friends. Most accessed the internet through mobile smart devices.

Despite Facebook, the world’s largest social network, having mandated 13 years as the minimum age for setting up an account, in several instances parents themselves had set up accounts for their children, McAfee representatives told media persons. Three in four respondents to the survey admitted to having Facebook accounts.

“Sometimes, when children receive friendship requests from strangers, they don’t know how to process them,” Anindita Mishra, online child safety evangelist with McAfee, said at the panel discussion.

Ms. Mishra tweets on behalf of McAfee regularly through the company backed account, @Cybermum_India on issues relating to child safety online.

Meeta W. Sengupta, educational consultant, and Melanie Duca, consumer marketing director (APAC region), McAfee, said cutting off access to the internet or strict policing was not an option as children would find ways to circumvent complete bans.

A better way to deal with safety online would be to make children aware of what to do and what not to do. “Think of it like teaching the child how to cross the street,” Ms. Sengupta said. “You cannot be holding their hand all the time.”

Psychiatrist Dr. V. Jayanthini noted that in some cases of serious problems because of cyber security, counselling was required not just for the child but for the entire family.

McAfee addresses some cyber security problems through its software suite. There are other third-party solutions as well as pre-installed software that come with some of the more established hardware manufacturers.

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