How do you ensure that your child is not a victim of online exploitation?
Dr. Bijaya: With the busy work lives that we have, we are getting our children accustomed to electronic devices for education and entertainment for our convenience from a very early age. Moreover, we as parents ourselves might not be aware of all forms of online exploitation that exists and that might be a major challenge for us in keeping our children safe.
I am a mother to two sons. The eldest one is nine years and he is at an age where he needs lots of supervision and monitoring. Ensuring safety regarding any danger comes through proper education. We give him the right amount of age-appropriate information, making sure the selection of words and examples we are giving him are not too overwhelming for him, but at the same time we make sure that the message is strong and clear. Children should talk with a trusted adult so they understand online risks. We as parents try to be that person for him with whom he can share anything without the fear of being scolded, punished or judged. In addition, we keep up a vigilant eye on his activities and behaviour and what he is into. Sometimes that translates into checking the browser history of his laptop. But more than that, I communicate our trust, support and unconditional love so that he can always fall upon me without a doubt and fear whenever in a situation of awkwardness or unanticipated danger.
Moon: I often talk to my children regarding cyber crimes including grooming. We have regular conversation regarding the content that they are engaged in the online world.
Dr. Bikash: With the change in generation and digital era, the internet has become not just the source of education but also a media of socialisation. Especially after the Covid, even the younger children are forced to sit online and do their studies. It has become a difficult task for the parents to monitor the children these days as most of the parents are working. In my opinion, spending time with our child everyday and ensuring that they can trust their parents on everything is the best way to protect them from exploitation.
Dr. Rita: We need to be transparent and accepting of our child, so that they come and tell us in case of any such incident.
Would you allow your child to go on a date before they are 18 years old?
Dr. Bijaya: To be quite honest, I would not want to, but of course I can’t guarantee that he would not. Well again, I believe timely educating what is good and what is inappropriate should be taught to our kids as they grow. It is okay to go on a date before 18, but with appropriate boundaries. I would appreciate it if he has respect for the young lady that he may go out with and age-appropriate sensitivity and care. I wouldn’t expect him to listen and follow what we would try to inculcate at age of 17-18, however I am hopeful he would turn out to be a mature, sensible young adult if we start young.
I have been teaching my son to respect girls, women. I teach him about good touch, bad touch, in fact I started teaching him about all of these quite earlier – essentially core values of integrity and respect. If as a parent I have confidence in my upbringing of my kids then going on a dinner date probably should definitely be fine.
Moon: My son is 17 and he has been open about when he goes on dates. I hope my daughter, who is 14, will also be open when she has interest in anyone.
Dr. Bikash: It definitely won’t be a wise decision to let your child go on a date before 18, but if your child wants to go on a date and the parent will control them, they’ll definitely find a way to cross the restriction. Trust and bond between the child and parent is the key to help them understand that the decisions taken by parents are for their own good. And it depends upon the intelligence and level of maturity of the child as well.
Dr. Rita: I did allow my child to go on a date at 16 as I trust her completely. It was not even in Nepal, but because we do discuss things, I was comfortable with the idea. Of course, it doesn’t mean I don’t care, and my heartbeat was faster when he went to pick my daughter. It is a process of growing up and we cannot ignore the fact that it is an integral part of her development as an adolescent.
Do you monitor which sites and applications your child is using? Have you had age-appropriate conversations with him/her about online safety?
Dr. Bijaya: Yes, I do. In fact, we as parents do quite a lot of monitoring. How long is he on screen? Is he seeking privacy at his age? How agitated is he when he is asked to be off screen? Checking on his spam emails. Of course, we do these without raising visible red flags with utmost gentleness.
Covid and online classes were a difficult time – with both of us parents working and he having to sit in front of the screen throughout his class day. In fact, he did fall prey to an inappropriate link that was shared by one of his friends. He was scared to tell us about it, but we figured it out through browsing history. After the incident we talked to him about it and gained enough trust that he felt comfortable sharing. We could give him information about how inappropriate websites approach an individual and how he should refrain himself from chatting with unknown people and not give any of his personal information online to anyone.
Additionally, we shared examples that have happened around online exploitation and overall safety.
Moon: We do not monitor the sites that our children visit. However, we do have conversation about what they do online. Yes, we have had several conversations regarding online safety.
Dr. Bikash: As my child is still very young, I don’t have a detailed idea about this. But parents should definitely open up age appropriate talks with their child as home is the first school. And parents should monitor the sites and applications.
Dr. Rita: I don’t really do that because I trust her and privacy is something we all need to respect.
Are you discerning about whom you are hiring, how many hands there are at home or at a frequently-visited friend’s place, and how the person is handling your child?
Dr. Bijaya: I have to be at work and the kids are taken care of by caretakers when they are home. I understand having a daughter would have made the scenario even more sensitive, but I do ensure that my son is behaving well with the caretaker and vice versa.
I try my best to be aware of the company he keeps, but I can’t do it all the time, especially when he is at school or playing with his friends. So, the best strategy here is to again teach him about the good versus bad touch, educate him in a way so that he never touches anyone inappropriately and has the courage if anyone makes any advances, whether it is at school, the play yard, at home or family or friend’s place.
Moon: Now that both the kids understand a lot of things and are vigilant themselves, we don’t pry too much about how they are handling our children, however, we have been careful about hired helps at home and frequently-visited friend’s place.
Dr. Bikash: Absolutely. I am concerned about the environment where my child is being grown up and the people they are around. Emotional state of a child at a growing stage impacts a lot on how his psychological development occurs in future. If I feel like there are some inappropriate people around my child, I make an excuse to make them stay away.
Dr. Rita: Yes, I will be careful before hiring someone and see there is someone trustworthy around her. If she is going out, I make sure that she goes only to places where I know she will be safe.
How do you discuss specific incidents with your child?
Dr. Bijaya: On the day of Shivaratri, my younger sister who is in her late 20s, was harassed and touched inappropriately while at Pashupatinath temple. She had the courage to physically attack the person and draw public attention. As she was sharing this incident with me, I felt it was okay for me to share it with my son so that he learns how a woman feels when she is touched inappropriately, and also how important it is to raise one’s voice without fear when you are uncomfortable with someone’s gestures and actions.
Moon: We are a family who believe in talking about everything. We talk about any kind of news we see or hear. We talked about changes in body early on. We talked about sexual and reproductive health early on. We talk about consent. PDA is not a taboo in our family. However, our focus is always on consent and choice.
Dr. Bikash: Firstly, I would like to hear how he explains things and what his interpretation of that incident is. Duty of a parent is to make them aware of what is right and help them differentiate between right and wrong. A child should understand the value of good and right.
Dr. Rita: Yes, I will discuss if any such incident takes place and I will try to give the pros and cons of the situation. I will definitely make my explanation as biologic as possible so that she understands why such things happen or should happen, and why we shouldn’t overreact to it.
How can parents try and prevent child abuse?
Dr. Bijaya: Educating our kids about online safety, exploitation and measures to prevent them, building comfort and trust in parent-child relationships are sure means to encourage sharing of life experiences, good or bad. It is important to teach them to raise their voices against physical or mental abuse and clarify what they actually could mean in a social setting. Alongside, as parents, we need to inculcate values of self-defense, self -esteem and respect for oneself and others as individuals. All these will help in raising a confident child and a good human being. Besides these, compassionate monitoring and supervision is always a must.
Moon: Talk to your children from the time they are very young. Tell them about your problems and involve them in your issues. When you find videos regarding good touch, bad touch, share with them and discuss about it. When you read about abuse, share the news and discuss about it. Let them be aware and open to talk to you. If your children are young, make sure that they are in safe places with people you can trust. As they grow older and are more responsible, you may not need to be too much of helicopter parents. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Dr. Bikash: Child abuse can be of different types. It might be physical, mental, emotional, social, etc. The bond between parent and child is the most important factor so that if something unusual is happening they will first come and talk to them. We should always monitor the environment where they are spending time and the people whom they come across. As most of the parents are working it might not be difficult. But as parents, it is our duty to spare time and listen to our child everyday and spend some quality time regularly. For a parent, nothing is more important than the happiness and health of their child.
Dr. Rita: At an early stage, we should educate our children about good touch and bad touch. Frequently asking if they have experienced any such behaviours from someone close and well acquainted is also important.