Making the internet a safe haven for young people

The access and use of electronic devices are on the rise and it makes it harder to enforce age limits. Children now have easier access to the internet today. This has brought with it parenting problems that the previous generation parent never experienced.

With about 85.5% of the Kenyan population having access to mobile phones and 71.7% with internet access, there is a need for parents to extend their parenting and guidance role to the digital space.We can no longer run away from it.

A study published by the Telegraph in 2013 showed that children have access to the internet as early as three years of age. The shocker is that they pretend to be older than they are to gain access and spend almost twice as long online as their parents imagine they do.

Kenya is one of the countries that the UNICEF has been researching on with interest in opportunities and risks that digital technology present for young people. In 2010, UNICEF’s Social and Civic Media section launched the Voices of Youth Citizens initiative to understand the use of digital media by children and young people in order to support advocacy efforts.

Safer Internet Day

Fortunately for parents, service providers are taking the initiative to make the internet a safe place for children. Google, the world’s largest search engine, and Safaricom, Kenya’s leading telco, among other industry players have come up with programmes to protect children from online harm.

“Access to reliable and convenient internet has become a basic need for many Kenyans, therefore data has become an important revenue stream for us. But we are also aware of emerging online issues that affect our young ones such as online bullying and that is why Safer Internet Day is important to us,” said Steve Chege, the Safaricom Director of Corporate Affairs when the company marked the Safer Internet Day at Michael Joseph Centre.

Safaricom’s 2018 theme, “Create, connect and share respect: A better internet starts with you” is aimed at starting a conversation around safe internet use among young people and tackling emerging online problems such as cyberbullying, access to harmful sites and illegal content.

The telcom also aims to encourage responsible use of social media platforms to create productive online communities.

In 2015, the Communications Authority of Kenya created the “Be The Cop” children online protection campaign to reduce exposure to internet danger. The campaign was in collaboration with Childline Kenya, Kenya Association of Professional Counsellors and Kenya Film Classification Board among others.

The CA also promised to advocate for child online protection legislation and consistently research on the subject. The parastatal has been urging the development of technical solutions, products, services and mechanisms that prevent access to information that is deemed to be harmful to children to encourage a safer internet experience.

Be Internet Awesome

Google’s Be Internet Awesome, aims to teach kids the fundamentals of digital presence and safety so they can confidently explore the online space. The programme is based on five principles. Be internet smart: Share with care. Be internet alert: Don’t fall for fake. Be internet strong: Secure your secrets. Be internet kind: It’s cool to be kind. Be internet brave: When in doubt, talk it out.

Be Internet Awesome goes one step further with a game. Interland- the game- provides an adventurous way of putting the skills learnt into practice.

The game has four components. Reality River challenges the player on multiple choice questions focusing on who can be trusted online. The Kind Kingdom is all about encouraging positive online interactions by blocking out cyberbullies.

Mindful Mountain focuses on sharing information only with the right people while Tower of Treasures is about having strong passwords. Hopefully, parents and guardians will take advantage of such free programmes to cultivate positive internet use among their children.

This is not Google’s first attempt at securing online platforms for young people. The tech firm partnered with Code-IP to design a Child Online Protection Kenya campaign, leading to Kenya Webrangers—a peer-to-peer mentoring club on child online safety targeting secondary schools.

Enforcing boundaries

The efforts of NGOs like Watoto Watch Network and Internet Watch Foundation who continue to raise awareness on child online protection must also be appreciated.  

While these efforts will help make a difference in the lives of kids online, it is important to acknowledge that such efforts are not enough. And will never be enough.

While cyberbullying and online presence can be tamed by service providers, the amount of time spent online can’t. Parents’ concerns must move away from only worrying about access to pornography. They must also control when and how their children have access to the internet. Too much internet access makes children lose interest in offline activities such as reading physical books.

The real internet safety for children is in parents taking up responsibility and enforcing boundaries and rules. Use parental control software, if you have to. Microsoft has incorporated family security features in Windows 8 and 10. It includes limiting the screen time if you set up a child account.

And oh, do not forget to lead by example! Be what you want your children to be. You can’t go around spewing online vitriol and expect your children to act any different. Don’t think you can hide your online activities from them.

 

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