The Reality Of Virtual Influences

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In the ever-updating world of information technology it is difficult to have much reliable and updated knowledge of the influence of information technology, more importantly the Internet, on children’s lives. The technology is updating itself every second and kids are updating themselves at par with that technology. Research is going on round the clock, across the globe, but by the time the research reports are out, the technology has updated itself to the next level. Steps planned subsequently to stop such influences on kids fail to reap much benefits because by the time the precautions are taken the harm has already been done. Kids today are experiencing different dimensions of Information technology, and the use of the Internet and digital gaming are fast changing children’s socialization, family life, well-being, and learning.

Kids become test users for different technological and cultural innovations connected to the Internet and communication technologies. Kids today keep themselves very updated with the latest developments in the field of technology and this is why families with kids are often the first who widely adopt the new communication technologies, e.g. broadband Internet connection. To many parents, the experiences of their kids are shaking their trust in the communication technologies in general.

The Internet exposes children and adolescents to risks that are more complex than it is often supposed. When a child is logged on to the Internet, he/she also has access to information on topics which are for a much more mature audience. The major threat of the influence of the Internet on the kids of India is that majority of parents are unaware of the content their child has access to. The parents feel proud to know that their kids are net-savvy but little do they know that their kids could become addicted to the Internet, which could have alarming results. In the past kids only had access to text books, which were either bought by their parents and there was a rare possibility of a child reading about a subject which is a taboo. But in the present scenario, things have changed drastically. Children today not only read mature content but their eternal curiosity leads these kids to associate themselves with a society where there are no cultural or ethical borders.

There is an apparent difference in how children and adults are experiencing the Internet in general. For many children and adolescents, the Internet has become a natural part of everyday life and social relations – the web is entertainment and more and more a social space. It is a space for maintaining offline social relations as well as a space for self-expression and self-presentation (e.g. pictures and diaries), getting new friends and falling in love. As for many adults, the Internet is still a tool to complete certain tasks, which could also be done without the net (sending a message, paying bills, filling a form, reading news, etc).

According to a web survey conducted at several schools (495 respondents), nearly half (46%) of the 7-13 year old children never talked with their parents what they had seen or experienced in the Internet. When the parents were asked the same questions and there was an interesting controversy: According to parents, 29 per cent of children use the Internet usually with them. Who do you believe?

If the Internet is a social space, there are also risks of social nature. The social risks in the Internet are not essentially new, the same risks are somehow present in children’s offline life as well: bullying, deception, harassment, exploitation, and exclusion, to name a few. What may make these risks more severe in the Internet is the nature of the children’s Internet as an adult-free (or parent-free) social space. If an adult is not there to comfort and share the social experiences when needed, it may be too hard for a child to cope with the situations and learn to take care of oneself. In the virtual world there are laws and rules but the implementation and awareness of such laws is still in the nascent stage. An 8 year old might be a regular to the Internet but he/she might not be aware of the cyber laws. Reports reveal an alarming rise of cyber crimes in India and most among such criminals are young boys and girls who have tried to adventure out in this territory of the virtual world. How many of you know that having a false identity on the net could land you in prison? Giving false details about yourself while making an email id is a cyber crime as per the cyber laws of India.

The challenge for parents & teachers is to realize, that the Internet means a lot in kids’ lives and we do not know enough what to really think about it. Becoming conscious of the above fact would not only help us better understand our children’s need to adequate exposure in latest technology, but at the same time it would also make us cautious to keep a tab on the content viewed by them on the Internet. This would require more interaction, sharing and trust than superficial control and restrictions. Parental control is naturally needed as well, but its rationale, in the long run, would be to help young people to learn such skills, habits and values, with which they will some day be better prepared for parenthood in the digital age.

Namit Agarwal

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