PETALING JAYA: Protecting children on social media and the digital world should be a collaborative effort, says social psychologist Datuk Dr Chiam Heng Keng.
She said parents and schools, including preschools, had the responsibility to educate children below the age of 18 on the proper use of social media.
Dr Chiam said children should be taught to develop characteristics, such as will power or resilience, to help them walk away from “temptations” should they stumble upon pornographic sites or receive messages from unknown senders.
“They must have the confidence to say no and to report. Raising awareness and how to react or respond will be through education.
“Parents and teachers have to be knowledgeable to help their children. Parenting is much more demanding and complex these days, especially with the increasing use of online or virtual classes, ” she said when contacted.
Dr Chiam said this when asked to comment on a report launched by the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) titled “Our Lives Online: Use of Social Media by Children and Adolescents in East Asia – Opportunities, Risks and Harms”.
Dr Chiam noted that participants of the focus group might not have been telling the “whole truth” as some could have been molested or raped or had sent photos of themselves.
“When I was heading a team commissioned by the Education Ministry and the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry to investigate children under remand, there were cases of rape or consensual intercourse with boyfriends initiated via the Internet.
“Of course, it is difficult to reveal these unpleasant experiences in a focus group discussion, ” she said.
Dr Chiam, who is also the Early Childhood Care and Education council president, said 99.7% of children in Malaysia owned smartphones and 87.8% were on social media.
While she was of the view that the content of the curriculum in schools was rather heavy, digital literacy was still needed.
“It can be part of another subject such as living skills or moral education, ” she said.
The report also recommended to improve support for digital parenting, taking into account differing levels of digital literacy and access to technology among caregivers.
Voice of the Children chairperson Sharmila Sekaran said while digital parenting was an extension of parenting, physical parenting was also vital.
She said there was a need to understand the dynamics as to why a child was plugged into the digital world. Children, she added, could not be expected to be unplugged from the digital world if parents had no downtime from their digital devices.
“If a child is having a conversation with the parents and the parents are interrupted by their digital devices, then they are not respecting the child’s time.
“They should lead by example, ” she said.
Sharmila said that digital parenting was more than just monitoring their children’ online activities.
“It is also about mentoring and having conversations on what they are exposed to in the digital world, ” she said.
She also said it was vital to have a certain structure for their children on the usage of digital devices.
“For example, prohibit the use of devices in certain areas in the home, depending on the child’s age.
“Maybe they can only use it in the living room or kitchen. And as the child gets older, we need to start teaching privacy and trust, ” she said.
Sharmila also urged parents to teach children the right to privacy and how to build trust within family, community and environment.
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