Internet Abuse Among Children Leading to Growing Anxiety Among Parents

In the past few decades there has been a sudden influx of new forms of internet and communication technology such as social media, cellular advancements. As of December 2017, the number of Internet users in India stood at 481 million and crossed over 500 million by June 2018. The expected rise in mobile users was at 730 million by 2020 ( according to Internet and Mobile Association of India, IAMAI) and at 829 million in 2021 (CISC0). Additionally, the amalgamation of artificial intelligence and virtual reality has changed the dynamics of the digital and social media spaces. Adolescents and young children represent a huge chunk of the 400 million social media users across the country. Over the years of research, it has been found that while social media is primarily used for interpersonal communication and social interactions, there is also a substantial number of children who use social media to avoid reality and manage psychological sufferings.

Internet Abuse Among Children

How does social media affect a child?

Recent research on adolescent psychology and brain growth have underlined that emotion-stimulating encounters (involving the misuse of Internet) could meddle with significant alterations of the prefrontal cortex and limbic system of the brain. These areas of the brain play a crucial role in regulating the emotions and risk assessment capacity in adolescents which is essentially responsible for the risk taking and impulsive attitude amongst kids. Hence this also explains why children are more exposed to being manipulated or being wrongly influenced on social media platforms.

There is a need for education around self-regulatory practices on social media and hence parents must focus on external regulation for the wellbeing of their kids. According to an online survey around ‘Safe Digital Parenting: Challenges and Way Forward” conducted by Wranga in association with Social Media Matters, Institute for Governance, Policies & Politics, and Youth Online Learning Organization, it outlines that “there is a causal relation between children spending excessive time on the devices and the level of concern of their parents”. Furthermore, the cyber addiction survey statistics state that 88% of the parents who participated in the survey feel that the cyber addiction of their child/children has increased during the lockdown.

What does the Founder, Social Media Matters, have to say?

Amitabh Kumar who has been extensively working towards imparting awareness for social media related concerns through his platform ‘Social Media Matters’, says, “This is just the beginning of our journey in the cyberspace, both as a nation, and as a group of experts trying to ensure Internet is a safe tool to use for all, specially for children. We hope this data is used by policy makers and industry partners to create safer solutions for children."

Problems in curbing Cyber Addiction

The survey report- ‘Safe Digital Parenting: Challenges and Way Forward”, which forms a strong base of this article also focuses on the acceptance and understanding of parents on the precautionary measure for providing safety and external regulation against social media addiction. Currently, the parents are partially aware of the practices to curb social media misuse by their child. Also, it is a sad but true observation in the survey that states that several parents are still unaware or ignorant on the use of methods to curb cyber addiction.

Knowledge gap/lack of awareness- The survey shows that only 28% of the parents use the child lock facility on their mobile or computer screens, while it is a necessary practice to avoid overuse or misuse of mobile/internet facilities by the children and must be practiced by all parents who have adolescent aged kids. To add to this 38% parents responded saying that they are aware of such a facility but never used it. Some parents are also unable to follow safety precautions such as child lock facility due to poor knowledge of mobile usage as 6% of the survey participants said that they tried their hands on it but could not follow the process till the end. The biggest problem lies in the knowledge gap as 28% of the parents were found to be unaware of the child lock facility all together.

Gap in education around cyber addiction: Not many schools provide education around cyber addiction which if applied can be one of the best and effective ways of teaching the adolescent minds. According to the survey conducted 60% of the parents said that the issues related to cybersecurity were not discussed in the schools of their children, which is an alarming number. This implies that a certain section of kids is completely deprived of education around cyber addiction, ethical social media practices and most importantly discussions around the impact of cyber bullying, which would have otherwise led to huge positive impacts on the young minds.

What can parents do to avoid cyber addiction?

The increasing cases of cyberbullying and misuse of the internet by kids, is a matter of grave concern for the parents. This has also led to increased anxiety which can sometimes lead to creating a gap between the parents and their children. Hence it is important that the parents learn and upgrade themselves to better understand their child’s issues and concerns around social media, thereby helping to regulate its usage.

On a positive note, over 92% of parents in the survey wanted to discuss this with schools as they believed that the teachers were the best medium to educate the students around impacts of social media, keeping in mind their expertise and knowledge base.

Parents are always willing to learn new things for the betterment of the children and this is also reflected in the last section of the survey. Whereas almost half of the participants in the survey wanted to learn ways of helping their kids overcome cyber addiction or to prevent it in the first place. To do so parents are willing to participate in workshops and seminars that teach the various aspects and ways of prohibiting misuse of social or digital media by adolescents.

The future that lies in the depth of advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, must be an easy access for parents and this can only be possible with education around these advancements, more so for the wellbeing of the kids who learn everything from their parents.

Click here to download the Report on Safe Digital Parenting
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