Since the eruption of Covid-19, schools around the world have adjusted to teaching and learning online.
However, this transition, experts say, poses a range of online safety risks for students, teachers and parents.
It is believed that this could lead to increased online child exploitation if they (youngsters) are not monitored.
What is the level of adult supervision?
Sylvestre Twizerimana, a clinical psychologist in Rwanda, says parents might find it okay to allow their children to use the internet without considering what goes on.
For young people, he says, this involves school work, socialising, entertainment, and games, which may expose them to inappropriate sites.
He notes that not everything online, or every online activity, is appropriate.
“Parents or guardians should monitor online time and activities in various ways,” he says.
For instance, he says, parents can set guidelines and check in with their children to make sure the guidelines are followed.
“It’s also important to consider a parental-control app to help you manage some of these tasks,” he adds.
For instance, Facebook’s ‘Messenger Kids’ enables kids to safely video chat and message family and friends when they can’t be together.
The app which includes two new features aimed at helping kids connect with their friends and family has been designed for children aged between 6 and 12.
It is made for kids but controlled by parents; the app is full of features for kids to connect with the people they love. Once their account is set up by a parent, kids can start a one-on-one or group video chat. The home screen shows them at a glance who they are connected to, and when those contacts are online.
“We know that parents are turning to technology more than ever to help their kids connect with friends and family online. With privacy, security and parental control at the heart of the app, ‘Messenger Kids’ provides a safe, fun space, controlled by parents to do exactly that,” Kojo Boakye, Facebook Public Policy Director, Africa, was quoted.
Dr Andrew E. Ivang from the Department of Clinical Biology – Huye campus, University of Rwanda, says because the internet is an interface which is educative, online learning is supposed to be a continuous process for learners.
He says that it’s essential for parents to restrict the sites visited, rather than the time.
“They should programme them so that whatever they are watching or learning is meaningful.”
He adds that parents should be watchful, and discourage their children from sharing their contacts with people they don’t know well, including fellow students.
“Some can snap inappropriate videos or irrelevant information and share it with others. Parents should always check social media to avoid such cases, that’s if they are sharing their sim-cards with children,” he observes.
Additionally, Dr Ivang notes that if possible, parents shouldn’t allow children to have sim-cards of their own, depending on the child’s age.
Limiting screen time
Sylvain Bizirema, a science and chemistry teacher at Ecole des Sciences St Louis de Montfort in Nyanza District, says it’s obvious that during this period, youngsters are spending more time on the screen, be it on smartphones, TV or computers.
In this case, he says, parents should consider limiting and enforcing the number of hours a day or week for young people using such devices.
“It’s vital to always talk to the young generation to understand media literacy and also practicing media literacy as well as self –regulation,” he advises.
He notes that it will be better if parents try to discover what their children like doing online most.
On top of this, suggest new educative TV shows and apps for them to try out.
He adds that by discovering what they like most, as a parent, it’s easy to come up with guidelines on the best way children can be informed in different areas.
Diana Nawatti, the head teacher and counsellor at Mother Mary Complex School, believes that it is essential for parents to remain updated on current matters in order to guide their children accordingly.
She says often, information is currency online, adding that if parents are conversant with something new happening online or anywhere, it can be easier to caution their children regarding that, and taking precaution can be easier.
“It’s also important because it can help students avoid unintentionally revealing too much information if they don’t understand how it is shared,” she says.
Know the sites
Aimable Bizumuremyi, a Kigali-based IT specialist, says parents should be familiar with the websites students visit, the social media platforms they use and the apps they download.
In case they (parents) don’t know how to go about it, consulting or seeking help from IT experts can help.
The experts, he says, can help check out the site’s terms and conditions to see what kind of information the platform tracks and stores.
“Alternatively, parents can download the apps, play around with them, or even friend their children, which can help them browse what they share online,” he says.
‘Messenger Kids’ includes, playful masks, emojis and sound effects that bring conversations to life. And in addition to video chat, kids can send photos, videos or text messages to their parent-approved friends and adult relatives, who will receive the messages via their regular ‘Messenger’ app.
Safety expert and IT consultant, Evelyn Kasina, says, “It is our responsibility to ensure online safety for our children. The greatest sign of success is when our children display responsible independence during their online interaction.”