While denying a child access to the internet is not an option in today's world, experts often stress that there is a key difference between monitoring and surveillance.

Parenting in the digital age How to shield kids from inappropriate material onlineImage for representation
Features CSA Saturday, June 15, 2019 - 15:56

It was in February this year that a popular vlogger, Matt Watson, made some shocking revelations on YouTube about the platform and uncovered what he dubbed a ‘softcore paedophile ring’.

In a 20 minute video, Matt showed how YouTube enabled sexual exploitation by allowing predators to easily access seemingly innocent videos of children which could be construed in a sexual nature. 

While YouTube in a statement at the time said that it took immediate action by "deleting accounts and channels, reporting illegal activity to authorities and disabling comments on tens of millions of videos that included minors," the incident brought up a larger question.

In the digital age where even very young children have access to the internet through phones and other electronic gadgets, how do parents adapt to ensure that their child is shielded from inappropriate material online?

Monitoring, not surveillance

While denying a child access to the internet is not an option in today's world, experts often stress that there is a key difference between monitoring and surveillance.

Though there are risks of a child coming across Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) material and becoming victims to online grooming, parents need to be careful about how they negotiate terms with their children on internet usage. Especially when it comes to pre-teens and adolescents, parental intrusion can lead to larger problems, making the child shut off and never trust their mother or father again.

Read: Playing Sherlock in the digital age: The right way to monitor your child's use of technology

Inadequate self-regulation by platforms

Another key issue is self-regulation by content platforms itself. While many platforms have a 'kids' version like YouTube, even these are not completely safe, as has been reported in the past.

Read: When Peppa Pig gets assaulted: Parents beware of this malicious genre of porn 

Going back to Matt Watson and the ‘softcore paedophile ring’, a New York Times report from last week found that the problem continues to persist despite steps taken by the platform.

The newspaper also identified that the main issue was YouTube’s automated recommendation system, which is one of the key drivers to ensure that users stay on the website.

"Users do not need to look for videos of children to end up watching them. The platform can lead them there through a progression of recommendations," the NYT report stated.

A culture of conversation

While a certain amount of restriction is imperative, in the form of child safety locks in gadgets that the child is using at home and in school, at the end of the day, the onus is on the parents to ensure that they promote a culture of conversation.

The child should be able to trust the parents enough to share their feelings. The reasoning behind any restrictions that are imposed should be explained to the child along with the need for setting boundaries. 

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