Parents urged to protect children in cyberspace
Kerrian Barrett beamed with pride as she watched her two-year-old daughter, Keijhaine Thompson, manoeuvre her way through the YouTube tabs on her tablet, easily selecting her favourite shows on her own.
Barrett shared that as early as one month old, she started introducing her daughter to various educational programmes to get her ahead of the learning curve.
“I wanted her to start being familiar with sounds and to identify animals, so she was listening to things like ‘Baby Bus’, ‘Dora’, and when ‘Baby Shark’ came out, that was her favourite thing,” said Barrett.
When asked if she has any concerns about what Keijhaine may be exposed to, Barrett answered in the affirmative.
“I do [have concerns] because what I realise is that even though this is YouTube Kids, there are pop-ups (advertisements), but the good thing is when there is a pop-up on the screen, she will alert me – even if I am asleep – because she cannot not change it herself,” explained Barrett.
As children get older and start to surf the Web on their own, that is where the dangers lie.
In light of this, the National Child Month Committee is working with the theme ‘Unplug Negativity, Connect Positivity … Think!’ for Child Month 2020, which officially begins today.
Andrea Martin-Swaby, deputy director of public prosecutions and head of the Cybercrime & Digital Forensics Unit, said that while there are many positives to browsing the Web, cyberspace can be dangerous for children without adequate supervision.
“The Internet is not just a space where there is deviant behaviour and inappropriate content. It is a space where our children can certainly learn, particularly now with COVID-19, where our children must have access to [useful information],” said Martin-Swaby, “but the free access to the Internet [can be] dangerous to anybody who is below the age of 18 years.”
Justine East-Campbell, associate clinical psychologist at Caribbean Tots to Teens, agrees, adding that she believes that the ideal age to expose children to the Internet is 12 years old, with supervision, and very limited access for those below 12.
“Research has indicated that children under 30 months old can’t learn from videos in the same way as real life, so one significant benefit of technology isn’t very applicable until after two and a half years old,” East-Campbell said.
Martin-Swaby added that leaving children vulnerable to predators or exposing them too early to certain material on the Internet could be considered an offence under the Child Care and Protection Act.
“Some applications pose particular risks, including anonymous messaging or those with chat rooms as these allow a child to interact with strangers. This is extremely dangerous,” the prosecutor warned. “Parents should also be aware of the age limits for applications, which are downloaded, and even where your child has attained the age to access these sites, it is important for parents to discuss what is appropriate and inappropriate content on the Internet.”
East-Campbell pointed out that exposing children to explicit content on the Internet or via social media could increase high-risk behaviours.
As for Barrett, she has already formulated a plan to protect her daughter from the dangers that lurk behind the screens of the smart devices as her daughter continues to learn and navigate her way through cyberspace.