15 December 2012

Nigeria: Our Kids and the Internet

We live in a world that is a global village- thanks to information technology and its user friendly facilities that offer its users links with the world and people in all nooks and crannies literally at our finger tips.

Daily we try to keep up with the innovations and counter innovations thrown at us promising to keep us connected in "real time." Thus, we find that we hardly get to analyze these technologies and the implications its use could and would have on our lives.

Nigerians being lovers of modern gadgets and the latest fads have caught on to this trend thanks to the introduction of the mobile phone technology and ICT in the late 1990s. Being constantly on the move trying to irk a living its becoming the new normal to find parents handing their kids and teens mobile phones, iPods ,ipads, laptops and other communication gadgets to stay connected with them or even as a tool for spending "quality time" with their kids.

As you hand over that communication gadget to your child, please pause and think through the implication this gift of love could have on your child's growth and development.

No doubt, the internet is a great place to hang out. It's not only fun, but it lets you keep in touch with friends and family and provides an enormous amount of information. There are lots of great educational sites as well as places to keep up with your favorite hobbies, music, sports and much more.

Cyberspace is like a big city. There are libraries, universities, museums, places to have fun and plenty of opportunities to meet wonderful people from all walks of life. But like any community there are also some people and areas that you ought to avoid and others that you should approach with caution. By knowing the dangers and how to avoid them, you can take advantage of all the positive aspects of the internet, while avoiding most of its pitfalls.

The murder of Miss Cynthia Osukogwu reveals that even adults are vulnerable to the dangers posed by criminals on the social web. It is a wakeup call for all parents, men and women of goodwill, government information dissemination agencies, schools, NGOs and other stakeholders to rise up to the challenge of educating our kids and teens on safe internet use. The government regulatory agencies such as the National Communications Commission (NCC) need to wake up to its role of regulation and putting in place systems of checks and balances to protect internet users. Countries such as China recognized from the outset the dangers of unrestricted, unregulated internet use and thus put in place measures to protect and monitor it users.

There are gender differences in motives of boys and girls use of the internet. Boys use the internet for entertainment, more interested in playing video and computer games; internet provides many opportunities to play online games. Girls on the other hand use the internet to seek for information for example for their homework and social interaction such as chat and keep in touch with friends. Both boys and girls are prone to negative behaviors and dangers as a result of internet use.

Some of the general risks internet users are exposed to include, but not limited to: lost of privacy, addiction, pornography and indecency, eating disorders, harassment and bullying, etc.

However, parents can share these few safety tips with their kids:

1. Never enter personal information about yourself such as home addresses, school name or telephone number in chat rooms or via email. Always check with your parents if not sure of an intended post.

2. Think about what you post: always be polite and courteous

3. Never engage in verbal abuse or bullying: alert your parents and guardians of any form of abuse, so that they can take action.

4. Don't believe every information you find online every website or chart room has an agenda to promote which may not be grounded in truth, verify them by crosschecking with parents or teachers

5. Read between the lines to identify "manipulation"

6. Don't talk about sex with strangers or consume any form of pornography

7. Avoid in person meetings with someone you "met" online. If you really have to get together, have the meeting in a public place, tell a parent or some other solid backup and bring some friends along.

8. Be smart when using a cell phone. Be careful who you give your number to and how you use GPS and other technologies that can pinpoint your physical location.

9. Always remember that people online may not be who they seem to be.

Stakeholders in Nigeria: parents, NGOS and relevant government agencies need to be alert in systematically identifying new technologies we are exposed to and analyzing their possible implications (positive and negative) on the growth and development of our children.

There is no doubt that the social web has come to stay, so all stakeholders adults and children alike need to get educated on surfing the net suavely and safely too. Apart from safety education, monitoring internet use both in content and time spent on these technologies is also a way to go. Isolating our kids from these technologies is certainly not the solution, for these technologies are the new normal of our lifetimes.

Odah is Executive Director Centre for Gender Education Abuja.

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