Cyberbullying is a real-world problem
A recent case highlights why it's more important than ever before for families to monitor children's online experience
Earlier this month, a 23-year-old female adult movie star was found dead at her home in California. After police investigation, it has been claimed that Canadian-born actor August Ames—her real name was Mercedes Grabowski—was driven to suicide by cyberbullying. Ames had posted on Twitter her decision to exit an adult movie project because the male actors in the project had worked with other men.
According to reports, she was inundated with a barrage of criticism on social media, to the extent of being called “homophobic". Her brother has been quoted as saying that “online trolls and bullies" cost his sister her life.
Ames’ case is an example of the potentially insidious effects of the internet and social media. The fact that this happened in a year when online phenomenon such as the Blue Whale Challenge made headlines shows how big cyberbullying has become.
The numbers in India are not too promising either. According to the New Family Dynamics In A Connected World 2017 study by the US-based cybersecurity company McAfee, 49% of Indian parents are concerned about “stranger danger"—a problem that prevails both online and in the real world.
Another worrying statistic is that 54% of Indian parents claim to have discovered that their children have visited an inappropriate website; this number is the highest among 14 countries where the study was conducted. The study, released earlier this year, covered individuals using an internet-connected device on a daily basis, in Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, Singapore, Spain, the UK and the US.
While Indian children are spending more time on devices at home (84% of Indian parents allow their children to take an internet-connected device to bed), it seems parents are not doing enough to monitor what their children do or view on these devices—only 36% of Indian parents admit to using software to monitor their children’s activity.
“With rising concerns over cyberbullying, parents should play a more proactive role in their children’s online lives. They should actively monitor their child’s online experience until they get a sense of judgement, and this is more important than ever," says Venkat Krishnapur, vice-president of engineering and managing director at McAfee.
Here are some ways, Krishnapur says, for parents to monitor their children’s online activities:
@ Open conversation: Just like the real world, your child needs guidance in the online world too till he/she attains maturity.
@ Build trust: It is important for parents to build a trust relationship with children so there is scope for open dialogue and uninhibited sharing of information.
@ Stranger danger: Highlight incidents on how strangers try to earn trust falsely—their agenda can extend from cybercrime to theft when you are not home.
@ Balance: Fix a daily time when children can surf online and do school work.
@ Monitor: There is a fine line between monitoring and policing, know the difference.
@ Use technology: Take the help of technology like a Family Safety application that will help monitor children’s activities and warn both parents and children when they are in danger online.
@ Do your bit: Discuss ways to identify online dangers with children, as well as how they can report these if they encounter them.
@ Be computer savvy: Parents should become more technology aware so that they are able to appreciate the risks online and are able to guide children on how to stay safe.