#NoBulliesAllowed – On-Line – Off-Track

When I first let my son go online to watch a YouTube video, like all guilt-ridden parents I felt I had sold a piece of my soul to the devil. That was two years ago. Now the devil has taken over completely. We have purchased enough internet bandwidth to run the Pentagon and all of us from the 91-year-old down to the 13-year-old are obsessed with our respective rectangular screens. The plus side is he has learnt a whole host of new things. He now has an understanding of a universe whether it is gaming or western music that I have no knowledge of. The first thing he does when he encounters anything new is to look up a YouTube tutorial on it. Google Chacha hai toh You Tube Guru hai. I have used this to my advantage to introduce him to topics I think he needs to know about such as classical music, feminism and art but I also have learnt to accept as guests in my bedroom the green-haired internet sensation Jack Septic Eye and the rap genius Kendrick Lamar.

Being an introvert and a teenager is a dreadful combination as the dependency on the online universe is all the more. Thankfully the Indian education system with its punishing load of homework does not really give him too much time. Still when his hand reaches out to the iPad minutes after he opens his eyes in the morning it certainly worries me. However, I don’t micro manage my son’s gadget time as that is for him to learn to do and learn the hard way if necessary. A weekend spent binge watching YouTube videos has led to incomplete homework and meltdowns when I have refused to help. Now he knows that mom is a meanie-head who will not complete his projects for him. Unfortunately, the meanie-head also pays for the internet connection so there is better time management. What I definitely do is keep a tab on the content. Parental locks and firewalls are necessary precautions. Because the internet?… A terrible baby sitter. You might as well let an ex-convict look after your kids with a box of knives and a bottle of vodka for company.

Teaching children to be safe online is as important as teaching them to cross the road correctly or light a matchstick carefully. The rules are the same as safety in the real world. Don’t give out your personal details, don’t talk to strangers. Ask them not to check-in at locations such as malls, restaurants or stores on their smartphones when they go out and make sure they check their privacy settings before they post photographs online. Keep a tab of which online platforms your child is a part of and what kind of content they are posting just as you would be concerned whose home your child goes to and what he/she says at a social gathering. Ideally don’t allow your kids to get on to social media until they are at least 13. If your children are on social media, ask them not to add people to their friends list unless they are known personally. With new apps such as Sarahah guaranteeing anonymity it is just as easy for a stranger to approach a child on the Internet as it is for one to walk up to him or her in a mall or a park. This does not mean ban their online presence. Parents proudly speak of bans but while that may have worked in the era of the television, the era of the internet is different. Also forbidden fruit tastes just that much sweeter. I have always found it is best to trust and communicate openly about safety.

The critical thing is to know your child’s tastes. The people they follow online be it celebrities, YouTubers or world leaders are as important to know as the names and phone numbers of their friends. Understand the appeal of the online entities they follow, and talk to them about it. If need be even, follow those people online. Work in some conversation time with your teens. Ideally doing something they can teach you. In my case it is discussing the super hero universe of Marvel and DC. So while I have to put up with eye-rolling at my lack of knowledge I get to bond with my son.

Learn to pick your battles with your teen. If you nag them about eating their veggies and making their bed they may not come to you with questions about sex. Communicating with teenagers in a non-judgemental way becomes necessary just to know them better. They are not the sweet little toddlers anymore who believed you made the sun shine. They are little people with opinions that matter. As was tragically demonstrated in the fatalities related to the Blue Whale Challenge parents could not believe that their children could have been targeted by a self-harm, suicidal game. While I would never dream of blaming the parent I do believe that keeping a watch out for changes in routine, behaviour and patterns is needed. Be on top of current trends on the internet and how your teen responds to them.

It is also a great idea for parents to have another significant adult the child likes, as part of the loop. We all want to be our child’s best friend but in the toxic teen years it is very possible they hate you. I know mine does from time to time. Don’t take it personally. They might be happy discussing problems with only one parent or even a cool aunt or uncle. It is better they are communicating at all then shutting off completely.

We all remember our grandparents telling us about how they walked five miles to school and how today kids have it easy. I beg to differ. Growing up is far more difficult today than it was for our grandparents, or for us. Don’t dismiss the current generation of children with a typical “Aaj kal ke bachche” comment. Our children have to deal with stimuli we never had to deal with and instead of mourning over lost innocence it is better to equip them to deal with the challenges they face. If we don’t take their side who will?

Photo Credits : Calum Heath

Words By : Chandrika Rao

Chandrika Rao is a Psychologist and Development Sector Professional, passionate about children’s and women’s issues and mother to a teenage boy.

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