As more activities including children's education move to the internet because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has warned that children are now more prone to online abuses than ever before. The telecoms regulator in an advisory to parents and caregivers, said recent developments have magnified the critical need for them to step up to the new norms of online life for children, thus the need for online parenting.
The NCC noted that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to bear a shift in the norms, putting more activities, including education of children, online. This, it said, has leapfrogged Nigerian children into the future as online activities have acquired a new meaning and become the reality of Nigerian parents and children. “Screen time and screen activities are the new normal. Parents are constantly searching for online learning platforms, TV stations are providing more child-based educational content and schools are teaching via Zoom, Google Classroom, and YouTube,” it added.
“Concerns of safety and privacy have been with us from the beginning of time. What has changed, however, is the invisible and borderless nature of these concerns and the magnitude of the consequences when they occur, the Commission stated.
The telecoms regulator noted that educating young children about cyber safety is complicated, as young children often do not understand the social and technical complexities of the internet. “This difficulty in understanding arises because the internet is virtual and cannot be experienced first-hand by the sense. As computers are usually in a place children perceive as safe, the risks are not readily apparent to them. They do not understand that the computer can be networked and connected beyond a safe place to a world that can be both risky and dangerous. Young children and most adults, do not realise that materials posted on the internet oftentimes, do not have external controls or standards to subscribe to,” the Commission observed.
To keep the children safe online, NCC said parents and caregivers should anticipate risks, adding that doing that would lead to appropriate control measures being put in place before a child is allowed access to digital devices or the internet. It also urged parents to stay informed and educated about the use of their devices and the devices their children have access to. “Stay informed on various social network sites and what happens on them. Stay informed and better educated than your children and wards. Make them understand that you know as much or more than they do. Therefore, be their go-to person for information on what to do with the device you eventually give them access to,” the NCC advised.
The Commission added that while schools have adopted the use of online platforms for education, care must be taken to educate the teachers and prepare them for the avalanche of questions from children, on the use of various online applications or whatever information the children encounter online. It further advised that before a device is given to a child, age-appropriate applications should first be installed on it, noting that this would protect the child from inadvertently stumbling into wrong sites that appear as pop-ups.
According to the Commission, empowering the child to stay safe online is one of the most important steps any parent can take. “There is a sense of privacy associated with being online. Parents will not always be there when children go online. Adopting a child-centric approach to the use of the internet prepares the child for unforeseen issues and assures the child of the trust and respect of his/her parent. Children will enjoy the benefits and advantages of the internet when they know how to stay in control and not allow themselves to be victims of the platforms and devices,” the telecoms regulator stated.