In his article for The Guardian, Sugata Mitra — a professor of educational technology at Newcastle University in the UK — pointed out: “If a child is alone with the Internet, and no one else is around, the Web can be a deadly, subversive, filthy, and perverse place.” However, he added that as long as kids accessed the Net within “safe, self-organized learning environments,” then the Internet has the capacity to become “a child’s best tool for learning.”
The best people who can ensure that kids’ digital explorations are done in a safe manner are parents. Aside from implementing Web content filtering and using parental control apps, parents should also make it a point to always be with their kids when they’re online. There are some popular sites that seem harmless enough, but could actually expose your kids to cybercriminals or things that they’re too young to deal with.
Ramon Isberto, head of Public Affairs at PLDT and Smart, acknowledged that kids need to be guided more as they go online. “The same way that we teach our kids to be smart and alert when they cross streets, meet new people and go around the real world, parents should also guide their children as they go online and explore digital spaces,” he said.
Isberto added that people have to join hands in this effort, including service providers like PLDT and Smart. He explained: “That’s why we’re working closely with experts from UNICEF to come up with a campaign to educate children, youth, parents, educators, and community partners on promoting child welfare and protection online.”
That said, we’ve listed the most common “unregulated” types of online platforms where kids may accidentally click on something that they’re not ready for.
1. Shopping Sites. Online shopping is fun, but many shopping sites also carry adult products such as intimate apparel and toys. Nanette (not her real name) discovered this when her eight-year-old son was searching for a rabbit-themed products on a popular shopping site. Of course, the boy typed the word, “rabbit,” on the search box. To Nanette’s horror, the top results of the search were adult toys. “I was shocked when my son called out to ask, ‘Mommy, ano ’tong mga ’to?’ You can imagine my reaction when I went to the screen to have a look,” she recalls. “It was a good thing he didn’t manage to read the lengthy product name. I just closed the window and said, ‘Bad search results lang siguro.’ I learned my lesson. Now, when we shop for toys online, I just do the search on my own then just let my son look at the results. Para walang nasty surprise results.”
2. Classified Ads Sites. Craigslist and other sites accepting ads of all kids often don’t have censors. Inappropriate ads are only taken down after they’re reported. Vicky, 48, a single parent to two teenage girls relates: “My daughters and I like looking at ads on Craigslist, mostly ads for vintage cutlery. Last year, my 16-year-old daughter wanted to look at the job ads. Baka daw may pwede sa kanya. She was taken aback when she saw an ad featuring a nearly naked woman. Thankfully, she told me about it. That’s when I saw that there are some sex workers posting their details on the site. There are also job ads that are aimed at young girls, enticing them to try out as models or to serve as ‘assistants’ of some sort. Di ako makapaniwala that these are all easily accessed by anyone. I am just thankful my daughters didn’t answer any such ads.”
3. Facebook. As the world’s most popular social media site with millions of users all over the world, Facebook or FB is already a significant part of our lives. However, as Rachelle, the mother of an ten-year-old boy, realized, it’s not advisable for kids to have their own FB accounts until they’re of legal age. She states: “Madaling maloko ang mga bata kapag FB na ang pinag-uusapan. They’d probably add anyone as their friend without validating that person’s identity. It’s still easy to fool them. They often don’t verify if it’s really the person that they know who is adding them as a friend. Pwede namang nag-pretend lang. Even adults can get fooled by it, so how much more if it’s minors? I’ll take being called the Buzzkill Mom over exposing my kid to cybercriminals and scammers. That’s why my son is not allowed to have any social media accounts…that includes Twitter and Instagram and whatever else…for now.”
4. Viral Sites. In the era we live in, it’s all about viral topics and everyone wants to be clued in on the hottest issue of the moment. However, the facts often get muddled up when it comes to viral stories. Dwight, 42, the father of three kids, explains, “I allow my kids to go to news sites, but not the sites that focus on viral news because these sites often don’t check their sources and have no firsthand knowledge of what they’re writing about. They’re the equivalent of gossip-mongers. They just spread the news and ask for people’s opinions about it without verifying it it’s true. A lot of fake news is spread this way. Like, for instance, I was really mad when my seven-year-old son started telling me that he believed Jose Rizal was the son of Hitler. It came from a viral site discussing the urban legend, but it was so badly written that it made the whole thing seem true. There’s a need for parents to curate the sites that their kids go to…and even then they have to be taught to do critical thinking.”
5. Friend-Matching Apps. Kids love making friends and they may also want to do this when they go online. There are a number of apps that promise to increase one’s circle of pals to include people in other parts of the world. The concept may seem wonderful, but there are some risks involved. Cybercriminals have already exploited these types of platforms to prey on vulnerable folks. Kids are especially vulnerable, as there are reports of pedophiles who pose as kids so they can mingle freely with children in digital spaces. “It’s best to remain Old School about making new friends for now,” says Mario, 54, the father of a 14-year-old boy. “I know that online relationships are now uso. However, kids still can’t handle that sort of thing. The only online friendship my son has now is with his cousins, who are in New Zealand. But that’s different because we really know them. Alam ko naman kapag nag-Skype ang mga ’yan. Siguro OK lang din kung may kaibigan ang pinsan n’ya na pinakilala sa kanya online, but hindi ’yung talagang random stranger.”
Bottom line: While kids are not yet of legal age, it’s best for parents to closely monitor their digital interactions. Parents should be truthful when they talk to their kids about what’s out there in the digital world. This way, kids will evolve into grown-ups who are able to navigate digital spaces carefully and responsibly.