Career & Education

Digital safety over the summer

BY DR KARLA HYLTON

Sunday, June 23, 2019

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Summer is here once again with long days and short nights, and parents are once again scrambling to find ways to occupy their children.

It is easy, with the proliferation of smart devices, to stick them in front of a screen — afterall, many youngsters are more competent than us adults on sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, which they use to update friends on the daily happenings, and to share photos and videos. Gaming is also a big deal and is often a favoured choice of entertainment and relaxation in preference to physical play and exercise.

But it is necessary for parents to find other ways to occupy their children.

Undoubtedly, the Internet can be a superb source of learning, fun, as well as social interactions. However, it can also be dangerous ground. In fact, online crime has been touted as the fastest-growing crime in the United States. You can be sure that Jamaica is not far behind.

Children run into all sorts of risks in the cyber world. These include but are not limited to: cyberbullying, exposure to inappropriate content such as pornography, predators, and cybercriminals.

Apart from the exposure to danger, there has been an overwhelming number of studies showing that children exposed to greater than seven hours screen time per day have significant brain changes. Brain scans of these children show premature thinning of the brain cortex, among other deviations. Studies also show that children spending more than two hours per day on any type of screen received lower scores on language and critical thinking tests.

Other effects of over-usage of screens are increased risk of obesity and sleep disturbances. Also, excessive gaming can lead to mood changes and even addiction similar to drug addiction.

Tips to Keep Children Safe Online

1) Thoughtful sharing — Create guidelines as to what is considered appropriate to be shared. Not everything that happens at home, within a family, or even at school is shareable material. Personal details need to be kept private.

2) Set time limits – Children should not have unlimited access to the cyber world. Depending on their age, appropriate restrictions will need to be enforced.

3) Passwords — Parents should have access to their children's passwords for various social media accounts. This way, the child is aware that he or she is being monitored and will hopefully adhere to rules and regulations.

4) Open communication — Sit regularly with your children and discuss the dangers and implications of the Internet. Talk openly about the problems that one could encounter. Instruct children to come to you if something makes them feel uncomfortable. Assure your child that you will not overreact or place blame.

5) Monitor upload and download of photos — Parents must be aware of the content children are putting into the digital space and are receiving. Emphasise the fact that once something is shared, it cannot be definitively erased.

6) Privacy — Teach children not to give out certain information indiscriminately. They are never to give out their name, phone number, e-mail address password or photo without your permission.

7) Parental control — use the features on your devices to control content that your child could be exposed to. There is also software that can be purchased to increase Internet security. You may also block inappropriate sites.

Finding Alternatives

Whether you child will be in summer school or not, there are hosts of activities which may be more beneficial to his/her health and well-being than a screen. Here are just a few ideas:

1) Books — Reading from a physical book is a good choice and a habit that should be fostered in children.

2 Arts and crafts — this can be fun for kids of all ages and does not have to cost a lot.

3) Music — If your child is interested or has already started to play an instrument, summer is a good time to give this hobby a kick start.

4) Sports — This is important for brain development whether it is recreational or competitive.

5) Summer job — depending on your child's age, allow them to be useful to you or to someone else. Usually these 'jobs' will be voluntary, but your child will be sure to learn something valuable.

Dr Karla Hylton is the author of Yes! You Can Help Your Child Achieve Academic Success and Complete Chemistry for Caribbean High Schools . She operates Bio & Chem Tutoring, which specialises in secondary level biology and chemistry. Reach her at (876) 564-1347, biochemtutor100@gmail.com or khylton.com .


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