The Supreme Court of India observed in a recent case, “Have you heard about the Blue Whale Challenge? Nowadays you can persuade people to do anything. What to talk about children, even adult minds are being manipulated”. The Supreme Court of India made a critical observation about human gullibility that both young and adult can be psychologically persuaded to do virtually anything — even to take their own lives.
Young minds are impressionable and pliable, and free access to social media is exposing them to unrestricted adult content which is not meant for their consumption and may cause them to be deeply distracted and disturbed, both psychologically and emotionally, resulting in severe behavioural issues and psychological disorders.
The ‘Slap Bet’ Case
The recent ‘slap bet’ case at Pathways school, wherein three students were suspended for slapping a Class X student, in an alleged attempt to create a Snapchat story, is a testament to the fact how the unmonitored use of social media amongst children and teens can lead to violent and irresponsible behaviour. Here’s an excerpt from a newspaper article, “Dr. Dinesh Kataria, Professor and Head of Department of Psychiatry, Lady Hardinge Medical College, Delhi said the possibility that the incident was a result of internet usage cannot be denied.”
In a recent study conducted by a Health Group in the US, four of five respondents surveyed said social media worsened their anxiety and heavy users of social media are more likely to report psychological distress. We can no longer ignore the consequences of misuse of social media and therefore it is absolutely necessary that we, as parents, educate ourselves on the dangers of social media and refrain from giving uninhibited internet and social media access to our children.
How do we tackle this problem?
The first step towards helping your child is to educate yourself about the risks associated with using social media and set appropriate boundaries to keep your child safe.
5 Tips to Keep Children Safe Online
Unicef recently issued guidelines and practical tips to help minimize the risks that a child might face. Here are my top 5 picks:
Make sure that your child has access to age-appropriate online sites which do not promote unethical behavior or violence.
1. Always ensure your child accesses the internet from a computer placed in the family space.
2. Use parental controls on all the devices used by your child. Monitor the screen time and keep an eye on his/her online activities.
3. Keep yourself updated with recent internet phenomena.
4. Observe your child’s behavior closely. Be alert to any unusual changes like moodiness, less or no communication, lack of interest in studies and falling grades. If you notice any such changes, closely monitor his/her online activities, talk to school authorities or consult a child psychologist.
5. If you find out that your child is already playing the Blue Whale Challenge, immediately stop him/her from using the internet from any devices.
There is always a safe, fun and educational way to engage your child with the online world. Exercising caution and control will not only keep you, as a parent, confident but also be good for the child.
(The author is a lawyer who takes a special interest in women and child rights. Views expressed are personal.)