Child online abuse is a societal concern that is being exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
While some countries are already developing measures to address and provide significant assurance of online safety for children, their families, and society at large; the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has also launched an online campaign aimed at educating parents and caregivers on how to keep children safe on the Internet.
Speaking on this, NCC stressed online safety is not the non-existence of harm or risk, rather it is creating the atmosphere or opportunity to overcome the risks while enjoying the inherent benefits of using the internet.
The commission noted that educating young children about cyber safety is complicated, as young children often do not understand the social and technical complexities of the internet.
“This difficulty in understanding arises because the internet is virtual and cannot be experienced firsthand by the sense. As computers are usually in a place children perceive as safe, the risks are not readily apparent to them. They do not understand that the computer can be networked and connected beyond a safe place to a world that can be both risky and dangerous. Young children and most adults, do not realize that materials posted on the internet oftentimes, do not have external controls or standards to subscribe to.” NCC addressed.
What are the risks children face online?
It is important for all caregivers as well as parents to be aware that children face several risks on the internet.
To this end, NCC has grouped these risks into four broad categories:
Content Risk: Consists of harmful information and material that children encounter online. For example, pornography, violence, fake news (misinformation).
Contact Risk: Meeting online friends offline can lead to negative consequences. Online grooming can also occur. This is a situation where a person befriends a young person to gain their confidence and then sexually abuses them. There are other physical and psychological risks that could lie in a young person building friendships with strangers online.
Conduct Risk: It includes game addiction, mobile phone overuse impaired sight, loss of confidence, and reputational harm due to unguided comments.
Commercialization Risk: This is the risk children face from being exposed to making willing and unwilling commercial decisions online – including giving out personal data, gambling, and shopping addiction.
Child online safety talking points between parent/carer and a child
For measures, NCC emphasized it is advisable that these questions are asked as part of a conversation or in a game form, to avoid the child being evasive or untruthful.
On this, the Commission advised parents not to adopt a confrontational approach while asking these questions.
On the average, how many hours do you spend online daily?
Take note that the time a child spends online may include time spent on academic or other learning activities.
What activity, will you say you spend the most time on when online?
Whatever activity they mention, check to see that they are not engaging excessively. It is important that a healthy balance is created between online activities and offline activities. Online addiction for whatever reason is unhealthy for the child.
Who do you turn to for advice on issues arising online?
Do not take it personal if your child says s/he speaks to someone else. Research has shown that most children will rather speak to their peers or other online friends. This is because they either feel uncomfortable having such conversations with their parents or they believe they know more than their parents on online issues.
Have you been asked for a nude picture of yourself online? If yes, did you send the picture when asked?
Sending nudes or sexting is common amongst young children. Those children who end up sending their pics do so because they trust the person on the other end of the screen.
“Children need to be made to understand that images when shared may never leave the internet and can be reshared a million times and more. It may follow the child to adulthood and such issues have been known to lead to deaths.” NCC addressed.
Do you have friends/followers online who are strangers? If yes, do not cut the child’s internet/smartphone usage because of this alone.
Having strangers as friends could serve as an opportunity for children to discover and express themselves. However, it provides the platform for online grooming of children which portends great danger for children.
“Social Network Sites (SNS) have also increased the opportunities for such interactions. The more children are exposed to SNS, the greater the potential for online-offline contacts and negative emotional exposure.
Parents must handle this line of conversation carefully in order not to push the child right into the arms of evil strangers.” NCC said.
Have you ever been bullied online? Find out how they felt and together discuss solutions. Do not make them feel punished twice by blaming them for being bullied.
“Research shows that 20.8% of children within the 12-16 years bracket have either bullied or been bullied online. Bullying is becoming a common phenomenon online.” NCC stated.