It's the technology age – we hear and read this everywhere. Even our kids tell it to us. From keeping in touch with relatives across the globe and getting free education from MIT to watching a live majlis and even committing crimes for some – all can be accessed from the fingertips of a person sitting on a computer or laptop.
As adults, we are aware of these things, and we think that our kids are not. Wrong. Our kids are very aware of what can be accessed, seen, done, or played online. It is a parent's job to know what his/her kid is doing online. Too many times have we heard the horror story of young kids getting "seduced" online so much so that they actually meet these predators in person across their cities or states. What is the guarantee that it won't be our kids?
Unfortunately, the Internet is a place with no guarantees – it can work on minute, fall apart the next, shutdown, or just disconnect in our homes – and sometimes, there is nothing we can do. Everyone around the world has access – criminals, ex-criminals, parents, teenagers, angry people, depressed people, sick-minded people, comedians, con artists, and the list can go on. How can parents keep their kids safe from falling prey to anyone out to get them?
The risks that your kid will probably be exposed to vulgar language and promiscuous pictures – are parents okay with this? Most parents will say, "My kid would never do those things! He just uses Wikipedia to do his homework and talk to his friends on chat." Which is fine, but a kid will be a kid – kids get curious, kids get peer pressured. We have seen the language and photos of kids who were "angels" go from clean language to innocent photos to a complete 180 degrees change – why?
Parents need to take an active role in being parents – parents cannot be afraid to set limits and rules for their kids, because it is for their own good. There are plenty of ways to do so. Keep the kids' computer in a shared room, visible to you at all times. This allows a parent to monitor what his/her kid is doing. If parents want to trust their kids, then allow the kid to use their Internet as they please, and then using tracking software, go back and check to see what your kid has been up to. There are many ways to monitor the usage; it is a matter of doing so. Teaching kids in a positive manner about self-control and that God watches our actions will certainly help kids see the realistic aspect of it – that just because things are readily available does not mean one should indulge or do as one pleases. Not only that, but using improper language or watching and listening to prohibited things can cause a bad chain reaction of habits to form in our lives – "If mom is not watching, I'll keep doing it" – which can lead from one thing to another.
Some parents do not feel comfortable being so restrictive – of course, it is up to the parent. But at the end of the day, many have personally seen the ill effects of kids having no limits when it comes to Internet usage. Parents are usually in shock when they find proof of their kid using extreme vulgar language against their teacher, school, family, or friends. It is just a matter of being aware – parents do not have to become spies.
Along with monitoring in different ways, parents need to simultaneously teach their kids what is right and wrong on the Internet. Kids have been given access from all ports – school, home, cell phones, iPods, etc. The least we can do as parents is to teach our kids that their piety is the most valuable asset they have – and with improper behavior online, things can fall apart.
Kids may not understand the seriousness of it, but hopefully adults can relay the message to them. ABC Family released a movie titled "Cyberbully" in 2011, which shows the realities of "teenage" online bullying and peer pressure. The harsh realities of what goes on in the popularity contest of online social sites – a lot of what our kids are doing today. Aside from hackers, kids can get harassed from their own friends, even siblings, in revenge of something, which can unfortunately turn serious and damage self-esteem.
We need to take a realistic approach to issues as such. Islam is about moderation and balance. If we are allowing kids to do whatever they like which can damage their self-esteem and worth, or being too restrictive so kids do not learn, then we are hurting their ability to think critically and know themselves as human beings who make mistakes but need to turn back to what is right. Parents are teachers and need to realize it is not about being a "cool" parent. If we want to see our kids healthy and safe, parents need to make sure they are teaching their kids how to behave in ALL situations – in the real world and the cyber world.