Educate parents and teachers on ways to keep kids safe online

The physical safety of today’s youngsters is certainly cause for concern, but there are more dangers than just those we can see around us


Rasha Abu Baker

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Published: Sun 1 May 2022, 11:31 PM

Children’s safety, of all kinds, is always at the forefront of minds across the world, as that world rapidly changes around us and the concepts of safety awareness are in a state of flux. Any parent would agree that it is vital to create a safe environment for children inside and outside the home, and this means educating both children and parents on the best ways to go about this.

The UAE government is constantly telling us that the future of the nation is in the hands of its youth. As His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, said: “The future is in the hands of the UAE youth, and they are the hope of the country for a brighter future. The UAE is proactive in preparing a generation of qualified youths who are able to innovate effective solutions for all issues and challenges that face society.”

This emphasises the importance of child safety across the board — at home, at school, using public transport, in the family car, playing with friends, even going to the playground or a sports field. If they are in danger, so is their future.

The physical safety of today’s youngsters is certainly cause for concern, but there are more dangers than just those we can see around us, as the need for child protection now encompasses the intangible in the form of the Internet.

According to a recent digital trend report, almost nine out of 10 primary school children (pre-10 years old) use mobile devices — smart phones, tablets, iPods and the like— to access the internet.

This highlights the fact that as a direct consequence of this, constant supervision of children’s online activities is nearly impossible and underlines the need for them to be taught to protect themselves in the digital world.

A worrying additional result of the survey shows that the age at which children start to use the internet is getting younger and younger, with the average age a child first goes online now down to between 5 and 7 years.

Most of the time, young minds pick up new ideas a lot faster than their parents, so theoretically, teaching them at a young age has benefits — but this has a downside: young minds, having been taught, are much more internet-enabled than their parents — they are technically adept, but emotionally underdeveloped.

That is why it is important to educate across the age-divide and offer help and advice to teachers, children and parents.

UAE authorities continue to reiterate the need for parents to be vigilant about their children’s safety online, where predators continue to lurk in increasing numbers to potentially bully, blackmail, sexually harass, and threaten youngsters.

To tackle this, parents should understand that a thoughtful and reasonable approach serves best, with education being key to helping children understand and avoid the dangers. I have seen some parents take the extreme route of implementing an outright ban on web usage which almost always has negative impact on people’s relationship with the internet. It is not a sustainable nor a realistic solution. Education, monitoring usage, and utilizing a full feature parental control software is the way to go.

We need to talk about taking a bold step and consider our obligations to ensuring the safety of children in general terms, but specifically aimed at protecting the younger generation when they go online.

For instance, a national movement can target educational authorities to reach out to children and educate them about online safety, reinforcing the UAE’s position as a nation committed to maintaining the welfare of the community and its next generation.

This will involve government coordination and cooperation through various schools, conducting visits to raise awareness on cyber-safety and supporting these visits through enterprising social media activity.

Any cyber-safety campaign should be offering the latest information and security tips, including how to safely enjoy online games and services, and information on how to report online danger.

The most important part of a campaign like this would be to get children to learn about who they can trust, who they can rely on, and how they can report internet abuse to the concerned authorities without fear for themselves.

Research tells us that children need to know that they can communicate their feelings with honesty and in return receive non-judgmental advice that targets their own circumstances, whether it is a form of bullying, intimidation, unwanted peer-pressure or inappropriate web content.

By pursuing a goal of protecting our children, by creating a learning environment in schools and homes where difficult subjects can be handled with necessary care, we can break down barriers and make a genuine difference to the lives of our children, our next generation of leaders, our future.

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