Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Growing up in an Online World

I feel old when I say "Back in my day, we didn't have Internet until University." Twelve years ago I never wondered about problems faced going to school in an online world. It is an understatement to say that as a society, we are ill-equipped to shield future generations from online perils.

The Internet has become a part of today's schooling. And it is a thing of status when I hear "My child is learning (sic) the Internet" or "Our school provides better education because we use the Internet". But do parents and schools have any idea how to protect children on the Internet?

I have been asked by many parents about this issue. Most believe that some magic software exists which can be installed and used to protect their kids online. If only it were that easy. Technology can help, but not without proper handling from the parents' part. This week, I present some safe Internet usage guidelines for parents.

Internet time is "together time". Parents, please spend time with children when surfing the Internet. The Internet should not be viewed as a means for children to keep themselves entertained on their own. A guided Internet session together is both safe and rewarding. There are plenty of good learning resources out there, my favourites being Wikipedia and Google Earth.

Place the computer in a common area such as your living room. It is easy for family members to keep an eye on Internet usage.

Set up kids' e-mail accounts yourself. Login first, screen e-mails for undesirable content and then let your kids read and reply to e-mails.

Discourage Social networking, Instant Messaging and chat. It only wastes time. I recommend e-mail instead of IM. Social networking sites like Orkut, Facebook, etc. rarely contribute to any learning or productivity.

Justify and limit Internet time. Internet use should be viewed as a privilege, not as a right. Before getting online, plan what information needs to be sought. Finish up swiftly and log off.

More thoughts and tips can be found here. Next week, I shall discuss some simple technology solutions to help both parents and schools bring a safer and more productive Internet experience to children.

Lastly, the Internet isn't always the best source. Is there a better resource for teaching history than Amar Chitra Katha comics?

Note: This article is mainly intended for audiences in India.

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