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Digital Parenting: Building Digital Bond with Children during the COVID-19 Era

Digital Parenting is still a developing skill and the parents must understand that awareness is empowerment. With growing usage of digital by children, especially during the lockdown period, Amitabh Kumar, Founder, Social Media Matters, writes about how parents can protect their children from cyber-bullying and also from inappropriate content.

Today, we are certainly aware of the current medical and economic crisis the world is facing, but it is also imperative to remember the psychological aspects of the current crisis, especially when we talk about creating a healthy digital space for children during this period. In today’s digital world, children access various kinds of information and news when they go through social media and other digital platforms – some of them may not be factually true – causing further stress and anxiety. To overcome these challenges, we are experiencing a major change in the way parents need to equip themselves to manage their children’s lives with these modern apps and games.

Digital Parenting has been one of the most discussed concerns amongst parents today. The busy working schedules have created a gap between the required amounts of conversations that the parents need to have with their children. But the good part here is that most parents have recognised the gap and hence, there are ample open forums to exchange parenting advice.

In our digital parenting workshop, we often discuss on recognising the need to have a conversation with parents juggling between work and children. When the Bois Locker Room scandal or videos on TikTok promoting acid attacks were made headlines all over the country, it was a wakeup call for Indian parents that it has become essential to focus on the online activities of their children.

To ensure that your child doesn’t fall into the trap of cyber-bullying and cyber-harassing, parents need to ensure that their children communicate with them without the fear of being judged or called out on their questions. Keeping a healthy open space for ideas and queries is the best way to mitigate any harm. What we can achieve with an open line of communication is the timely reporting of cyber-bullying cases and the provision of adequate emotional and mental support to the kid. An unfortunate fact is that the effect of cyber-bullying can be lifelong and it can also impact the confidence of a person to have further social conversations. But if the issue is identified and resolved at the earliest, it will help the child in moving on and continue their daily activities as usual.

The increasing access to the Internet across India has given rise to the threat of the ‘faceless evil’ of cyber-bullying, with teenagers being the most vulnerable victims. Cyber-bullying and crimes have just as adverse effects on our children as real-world crimes and bullying. One observes a change in behaviour, loss of appetite, aggressive outbursts, decrease in social interactions; these are symptoms that have a long-lasting effect on your child’s behaviour. In our experience of handling real-world cases, most of the time the child is ashamed of being blamed to be bullied or being a victim of a crime. We need to have a caring approach toward the survivor of a cyber-incident.

As mentors and parents, one needs to be extra careful and study the child’s behaviour often. At times the issues that the adults find barmy end up having serious implications on a growing child. The solution lies in addressing the issue and having open dialogues with the teenagers. They need to know and believe that there are agents who can pull them out of the trauma they are facing. What parents can do is to make sure that their child has proper digital literacy so that we can build a robust understanding of online spaces and the safety mechanisms amongst the children. This will help them in boosting their confidence when they will step on to the digital platforms and start building connections.

Another aspect where parents can ensure the safety of their child is that various streaming services that provide advanced parental control features, such as on Netflix, which helps parents stay informed about the viewing choices. Similarly, other apps also have dedicated safety settings when we download an app, it should be the first feature to check. It’s like a seatbelt or brakes in your car, you would never drive without testing them. Similarly, for apps we should know the safety features available before using them. You, as a parent, can decide if the episodes are on autoplay or not, you can also see the list of series and films your child is viewing, lock individual profiles to prevent children from accidentally discovering what may not be appropriate for them, and have the ability to curate their profiles.

Digital Parenting is still a developing skill and the parents must understand that awareness is empowerment. As long as there are innovations in the tech world and the more time you and your child spend with technology, the better you will get at it. Our aim is to ensure users become aware of positive cyber etiquette that ensures their safety. Also, regular conversations on the topic ensure that we stay up to date about what’s happening on the Internet.

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