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Ensuring children's safety online in the time of COVID-19

The outbreak of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) disease has forced our online activities to expand exponentially.
Ensuring children's safety online in the time of COVID-19
How to protect your child online?

As we all stay home to follow community quarantine measures and keep ourselves safe, the struggle to stay productive and entertained becomes greater. Families with children, however, face a different challenge.

Most children have a short attention span. That is why parents find it usually tempting to resort to the Internet and the use of gadgets and mobile devices as companions to keep their children preoccupied.

But while lending gadgets prove to be effective in stimulating children's minds and enriching their technological skills, this also opens up the possibilities of them falling prey to vicious online harms.

How do we ensure that our children are safe in the digital space? 

UNICEF shares that in this pandemic, more and more children online are susceptible to sexual exploitation, bullying, violence, and pornography.

One-click at a link can lead to dubious websites. A seemingly harmless friend request might be a covert online predator. YouTube might auto-play disturbing content. Facebook can expose them to fake information and violent images.

Given all these scenarios, there is no better time than now for parents to take extra precautions in giving their children screen time.

To facilitate this timely conversation within our GIZGUIDE community, we have conducted a poll in our Facebook group to find out ways in which our members are protecting their children from potential perils that they may encounter on the Internet.

More than 100 poll participants voted for the filtering of Internet content for their children. This is done by blocking websites or using keyword filters that disable access to content that contains certain keywords that are not appropriate for children. This can be done manually on various social media sites, mobile apps, as well as via anti-virus or third-party software.
The poll also revealed that some adults just do not allow their children access to Internet-connected devices at all. Some also shared that they really take time to tell their children not to engage with strangers online, set concrete screen time rules, and try to be hands-on in managing their children’s online activities.

We also got some practical tips from parents on parental controls that they have found effective, such as MIUI: Second Space, Android Kids mode, Google Family Link, ColorOS Realme UI Kid Space, and more.

Many swear by the practicality of only allowing their children to view content on YouTube Kids or Netflix Kids, which are some of the readily available features of popular video streaming platforms. 

Validating all these, mobile services provider Smart Communications, Inc. shared with us some expert references from UNICEF and child protection organization Stairway Foundation on how to keep children safe during this time of the great digital shift, due to COVID-19.

CONTENT: As a rule, it helps to limit children’s screen time only to age-appropriate content and mobile applications. This includes concentrating on the content and mobile apps for reading, storytelling, or those that aid spatial skills, body movements, and exercise.

ACCESS: Preschoolers, should they be introduced to instant messaging or chat apps, must use the accounts of their parents or guardians instead of having their personal accounts. Social media platforms are generally not designed for children under 13 years old.

USAGE: Ideally, children’s screen time must be limited to just an hour or 1 one and a half hours a day. Designate other analog activities, or even chores, to keep children entertained and productive during the rest of the day. 

COMMUNICATION: Parents must take time to personally guide and talk to their children while they are using mobile devices. This way, they can better be aware of what their children find interesting and useful online and be able to discuss whether these apps or content are safe to use. 

The following are some topics that may be discussed by parents with their children: 

6-10 years old: Basic online safety concepts, account security, and password management, etc. 
11-12 years old: Cases of unsafe online interactions, inappropriate content and harmful behaviors
13-17 years old: Reinforcement of moderation in usage; setting of mutual agreements on the acceptable rate of daily device and social media usage

Considering all these, the most fool-proof method still is for parents is to have constant discussions with their children on their Internet usage. It is equally important for parents to make their children feel comfortable when coming to them for advice and make them feel safe should any online problems arise.

Ultimately, by educating and instilling on children important values offline and online, they may be able to develop better habits regardless of the space they are put in.

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