World Suicide Prevention Day: How to keep young ones safe from dark side of the web.

How to Keep Young Ones Safe from Dark Side of The Web

Until a few years back most of the teachers had a favourite topic for essay writing 'Technology - Boon or Curse'. Most of us would jump and stand up for technology being a boon, and there would be few talking about it being a curse. This debate didn't have had a solution then, and doesn't look like there's going to be one any time soon. The virtual world has become an inseparable part of our existence. The Internet is very impactful and continues to grow at a breakneck speed. Parents today are worried about the access their kids have to the information online, and the inability of some teenagers to handle the information only adds to their concerns. The Internet is being used for learning, exploring, seeking help, connecting with people around the world and much more. People can define their own identity in their social media profiles, and modify it several times to suit various purposes and situations. This has given a new dimension to socialising and expressing oneself. Children and young people often feel more secure about expressing or confiding in strangers, than in people close to them.
In an age where keeping them away from technology is practically impossible, vaccinating them or providing early intervention remains the best way forward.
Catch them young
According to a UNICEF report, 60 per cent of kids between 6-10 have access to the Internet. Caregivers can take this chance to give them an 'exclusive user's manual', made by parents or an elder, which has safety instructions to follow online.
Without the the right education/manual, they may stumble upon anything, appropriate or not.
Once a user knows that the Internet can provide them with all the information they need, it heightens their curiosity and they go back for more. This does not only apply for the inappropriate content. Apart from monitoring content, parents should also get involved in the activities along with them.
Create a safe and non-judgemental environment
Allow your children to put forward their own opinions even if their thoughts are not aligned with yours. This will encourage them to be more open towards sharing their thoughts with you.
If this seems a little difficult, you can always seek professional help. Involve them in the process of seeking professional help from a psychologist or a counsellor. Help them understand why a trained professional is better than an anonymous agony aunt/uncle in the virtual world.
In simple words, instead of a faceless entity, inculcate a habit of approaching parents or a trained professional when it comes to sharing information.
Help them draw parallels between the real physical world and the Internet world
A kid who will think twice before befriending a stranger in real world will generally not think twice before accepting a friend request from strangers online. The main reason behind this is the fact that the set of guidelines we have for kids in real world are not extended to the virtual world.
It is advisable to provide them with guidelines even for their virtual life, like not befriending strangers, not uploading pictures that can be used against them in future, etc.
Communication is the key
The most basic thing any parent could do is initiate a dialogue with their kids. The idea is to create an environment where the kids feel that their parents are approachable for even their most severe problems.

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Manasi Gokhale
Senior Psychiatrist and Advisor at Mpower.
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