Can we make the Internet Safer for Our Children?

By Dr Anderson Uvie-Emegbo (Capital FM)

The world reacted with horror as 14-year-oldBriton, Hannah Smith committed suicide some days ago, after putting up with incessant bullying on ask.fm, a Latvia- based social networking site with millions of adolescents around the globe amongst its about 60million registered users.

The outrage is quite understandable as it is the 4th death attributed to cyber bullying on ask.fm alone in less than 3 years. The website allows users to post anonymous comments about other users.

Research estimates that in Britain alone, over 3 out of every 10 teenagers experience cyber-bullying.

While many advertisers have hurriedly pulled out of ask.fm (as usual to maintain their “brand name”), many teenagers defend the website. Some users say that they like the anonymous nature of posts as it allows them get honest and candid feedback. Other teenagers simply delete offensive posts/comments.

However, like we have seen in these tragic examples, not all teenagers handle the pressures as optimally as others. How do you know which teen would deal with this in his/her stride? Do you know if your child is the bane of cruel jokes and harsh criticism online?

Why are teenagers, particularly vulnerable? At this formative stage of life, teenagers are very impressionable. A good number is dealing with physical, emotional, sporting and intellectual challenges. They have to deal with issues of self-esteem and self-image. Many crave for acceptance among their peers. While in times past, abuse was limited to just the classmates, playmates or schoolmates, it is a different ballgame altogether today.

The Internet has become the main playground. A typical teenager now has a network of hundreds and sometimes thousands of friends across social media sites. The identities of some of these “friends” cannot be verified.

Do you know who your child’s ward’s niece’s nephew’s friends are on social media sites? Are you their friend on these sites? Do you even use social media? What is your strategy to prevent cyber bullying? Do you know what pressures your children face online? Do you know how to recognize the danger signs of potential abuse? How safe are they online and what are you doing about it?

Also, teenagers are keen to want to belong to the “in crowd”. Many find criticism and rejection very hurtful. Even when they have a good relationship with their parents/guardians, issues of rejection are deeply personal and individuals react in different ways. Some become scared while others are ashamed. Some feel worthless, unattractive, unintelligent, inadequate, incapable or empty – setting the stage for a circle of low self-esteem and depression, which in some cases spiral out of control with tragic consequences. The Internet, like many other things in life is subject to abuse. The world is full of evil people, criminal gangs and maladjusted individuals.

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