The fact is that 93 percent of kids are online.
Even if parents limit or ban internet access, kids have access at school, through a friend's smart phone, libraries, and schools.
The internet is a tool that our children need to use and master with wisdom dispensed by parents. We need tech-savvy youth who will grow up to be leaders of the Muslim community.
Many schools use a websites such as EdModo to connect students and teachers. My friend Reem is the vice principal of an Islamic School. She says that many teachers assign work from school that children need to research online. Some of the best homeschooling resources are online.
Far too many parents do not allow their children monitored access to the internet, leading to two scenarios. Their children end up lying and using it behind their back; or are so sheltered that they do not know how to conduct themselves online when they finally do get access.
On the other hand, more often then not, there are parents who freely give unmonitored access.
It is very easy to walk into the Big Box store and order the shiny device that your children have been haranguing you for so long. 'Baba, Google Glass is here and everyone at Sunday school is getting one” and sure enough many of us will rush out to buy it to keep up.
But then what?
Far too many parents do not know how to use the devices that they gift to their children. There are also other issues that caretakers raising children in today's world need to think about.
- How does a parent know if their child is engaging in inappropriate Internet activities?
- How would a parent know if their child is cyber bullied if he does not tell them?
These are conversations that we need to be having with our circle of friends when we meet over tea, dinner or halaqas.
According to Common Sense Media, “Young teens don't yet have an “off” switch in their brains. That means that they often act impulsively. This lack of impulse control combined with online anonymity could lead toward dangerous behaviors: cyber bullying, inappropriate photo or video uploads, illegal downloads, meeting strangers — even cheating. Because socializing is so important to young people, online interactions can become pretty intense – whether they're playing games, chatting with friends, or sharing work.”
Using open communication and thoughtful intervention, Muslim parents can help their wired offspring learn how to maneuver electronic gadgets and the world wide web. Here are some tips on how to give children monitored access to the Internet.
Spend time with your children online.
Ask to see their Facebook page, their Instagrams, Tumblr, We Heart It and Twitter feed. The point isn't the site but keeping the lines open so your child can tell you if they have one. It may seem like a foreign territory, but it is imperative that parents talk to their children about social media. At this stage, it is not our job to try to protect them by isolating them. It is our job to teach them how to deal with information and with people.
“If you dont have an instagram you are considered a loser” 12 yr old.
Parenting experts do not recommend Facebook or Twitter for middle schoolers, no matter what they tell you. Once the child has an email account, they can open an account on any social media site they want. Always have access to your child's email account. If they change the password, confiscate the device. I don't check every email my daughter gets but she knows that I can drop in and check her account randomly whenever I want. And I do.
Younger children often play on websites such as Club Penguin, Poptropica, Fantage, Movie Star Planet, Moshi Monsters and new ones pop up every day. Most if these sites teach extreme consumerism as children 'play' to accumulate points or currency and use it to 'buy' stuff: furniture, VIP passes, etc.; urging your child to become 'Rich and Famous.' As responsible parents,we need to prevent children from becoming mindless consumers.
“It's unfair that V.I.P. members get so much stuff”- 7 yr old
If you do allow your child to visit these sites, then watch them while they play. Teach them not to talk to or chat with random strangers. That person with named Girlie45 could, possibly, be a middle aged predator.
Teach them that everything that they put online is there forever. Anyone can cut, copy and paste pictures and text.
Common Sense Online Safety
Install monitoring software.
You may want to use safe-search settings or filtering software for younger kids. McAfee and other virus protection program have built-in software. These notify the parent of every site that a child visits. Tell children upfront that their online activity is monitored. Remind them that Allāh is watching constantly and the angels are writing everything down. Parents can always check browser histories to see where your kids have been. This may seem contrary to the “La tajassusu, don't spy” hadith, but just as watching your children' behavior offline does not fall into this category, neither does the online world.
Place the family computer in a public place.
Don't give children laptops that they retreat with into their rooms. If they have access to a laptop then ask them to use it around the family. Add passwords to all adult computers and set your screen to ask for the password after being idle for a few minutes.
We learned this the hard way when one of the adult laptops was left accessible and one of our kids googled an innocent term. It took one sec but what she saw was enough to send her hiding under bed. It was traumatizing but it could have been much worse.
In figuring out how she got there we found out that websites contain a list of index words Internet search engines use these index words to provide surfers with related sites. Many children's Internet sites include “toys,” “dollhouse,” “girls,” “pets,” “Beanie Babies,” etc. Teen sites might include index words such as “NBA,” “sports,” “boys,” “cars,” etc. Porn sites use these innocent index words to lure the young and that is how searching the Internet using these words can take children to porn sites. Read more about this here. 67% children have been exposed to some version of adult websites.
This forced us to use precautions on our computers but most importantly we realized that we would have to talk to our children (continually) so they only open approved sites and even if they do open a page like that by mistake they should have the wherewithal to get out of there as fast as possible.
Use the “Walk By” Rule: This is a Dr. Borba favorite of mine.
Emphasize that if, at any time, you walk by and see your child covering the screen, switching screens, closing programs, quickly turning off the computer, or not adhering to your family rules, pull the plug. End of argument.
Help kids think critically about what they find online.
Young people need to know not everything they see is true, everything they read is not true. They need to have their Muslim filters on, and these need to be instilled by the parents. As they grow and start forming their own opinions, they may rely on the internet to research viewpoints and these may differ from yours. This means that you need to be available to talk to them about anything that they read or see on the internet about Islam, current events, politics etc.
Set rules about time and place.
Have children turn in the gadgets at night. imām Tahir Anwar recommends that all devices should be turned in to parents at night for charging, including laptops. Set a time by which all homework and research should be complete. This will teach them responsibility and limit procrastination. Don't let them Instant Message (IM) while doing homework. Restrict time and sites for online gaming. In our home, WiFi switches off to select devices after 8 p.m., it is easy to set this up through your router. Log into your router, utilizing parental controls shut off access to a particular device according to your personal schedule.
WiFi access should be monitored
And limited on iPods, smartphones, tablets. A point to remember about this is that even if you set limits on your WiFi at home kids can easily get WiFi anywhere it is available. Don't get them an unlimited internet service, they don't need it.
Discourage taking their devices
When you are visiting others. I have seen many gatherings where there are 15 kids/youth in a room and all of them are on their own device. No one talks to each other.
Talk, talk, talk. Start a discussion with your child
- What are your favorite things to do online?
- What is personal information? Why should you keep it private?
- What could you do to be safer online?
- What would you do if anyone online asked to meet you face-to-face?
- Besides me, who do you feel that you can talk to if you are in a scary or uncomfortable situation?
Internet safety basics to teach your child.
- Never share names, schools, ages, phone numbers, or addresses.
- Never open an email from a stranger – it may contain viruses that can harm a computer.
- Never send pictures to strangers or view pictures that strangers send to them.
- Keep passwords private (except to parents).
- Tell a trusted adult if something mean or creepy happens on the Internet.
Some tips adapted from parenting expert, Dr. Michele Borba's articles on internet safety. What are your best internet safety tips?