The internet is a blessing in disguise. Though it helps the world become a smaller place, it exposes one to perils of many sorts.
Photos, videos and personal information of oneself on social networking sites can make one extremely vulnerable and fall prey to prying eyes. Despite boasting of high security, one can never say what happens behind the bright ‘walls’ of these networking sites. It’s for reasons like this that US President Barack Obama has banned his two daughters — Malia, 13 and Sasha, 10 — from using Facebook for at least four years. However, closer home in Bangalore, you see a number of children extremely active on social networking sites without realising the negatives of it. ‘Metrolife’ interacted with a few such kids and their parents to find out how secure are they.
Though the legal age of joining Facebook is 13, the site itself suggests that youngsters between 13 and 17 years of age seek parental consent to use it. N Ganesh Babu, an area sales manager, has a 12-year-old son who uses Facebook regularly. “I agree with seventy per cent of Obama’s view. Though I feel my son is too young to be on Facebook, I have already informed him about the pros and cons of it.” Like others, Ganesh feels Facebook has a lot of advantages. “When I was a student, it used to be so difficult to get information. We had to go to the library to do our projects every time but now, everything is so easy. And I want my son to be aware of such things and communicate better with people.”
Tanya, a student of class eight of Sophia High School, feels children above 13 are old enough to be on Facebook. “We know what we are doing. Besides, Facebook provides more security options for those below 18,” she quips. Understanding the benefits and dangers of it, she says, “You can interact with all your friends easily. Of course, there are unknown people trying to talk to you which can be dangerous. But you always have a choice and can block such people,” she adds.
Her mother Shilpa, a homemaker, monitors her account once in a while. “Children these days are very clever. They know who to add to their list and who to avoid,” she says. “Facebook is good in many ways as she (Tanya) gets to connect with everyone. She also gets a lot of information on Youtube,” she adds. According to Shilpa, “Kids nowadays are pressurised to be in touch through Facebook and it’s a fashion to be on it.” However, she doesn’t allow her younger daughter to use it. “She is only eight and is too young for it,” she notes.
Counsellors feel supervision is of utmost necessity when kids are on social networking sites.
Says Shobha, a child counsellor, who works with the underprivileged children at Christel House India, “It’s very important that kids reach an appropriate age (at least 16 years) first to be on such sites.” She feels, “Small children tend to use the net just for the heck of it.
Also at their age, it’s natural to be inquisitive. So they may log on to other sites which can cause a lot of harm,” she notes. “It’s true that Facebook is a lot safer when compared to other sites. You have many security options but the question is are children aware of it?” she asks.
Shobha advises parents to keep a tab on their children’s activities on the net. “Parents and teachers can give children an hour a day to use the internet and supervise them at the same time. Also, inform them about the pros and cons of the net. As they grow older, you can go slow on the rules,” she sums up.