The internet has become a daily, trusted, reliable and accurate source of information for many people. Besides, with the increased use of social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, Snapchat among others, many users especially young people now have access to an almost endless supply of information and opportunity for interaction.
However, this comes at the cost of Minors having to deal with everyday challenges in identifying, understanding and coping with dangers they encounter while accessing these platforms. Some of the most common risks that minors are exposed to are exhibited in the form of child online pornography, grooming – manipulative technique that online predators (especially paedophiles) use to gain the trust of children to be sexually exploited; Sexting-the exchange of sexually explicit material (texts, photos, videos); Cyberbullying among others.
As part of its mandate, the Uganda Communications Commission has partnered with the Internet Society – Uganda Chapter, to equip young users with the necessary knowledge and skills to understand the online risks as well as how to navigate them. The approach being used is premised on the fact that teaching children about technology should be another part of keeping them safe, just like crossing the road or learning to swim.
The first phase of the programme will be conducted in twelve select rural – urban schools with the objective of creating awareness among young users on how to stay safe online thus building capacity of children and educators on how to child online safety.
The programme beneficiaries will include primary school students aged 6 – 12 years as this age group has been found to exhibits curiosity, in both reality and online and tend to interact with ICTs as they evolves. The program thus aims to develop critical thinking in this demographic so that they are aware of the vulnerabilities they are exposed to.
The other audience are secondary school students aged between 13 – 18 year. These are teenagers exhibiting high proficiency to technology, and in most cases, greater than their supervisors. As growing adults, the programme aims to create awareness of the repercussions for online irresponsibility.
The Internet is a beautiful place for learning and entertainment, but like the world around us, it can pose dangers if precautions are not taken. Allowing free access puts your child, your computer and your data at risk and as such, the Commission with the support of the government of Uganda and the International Telecommunications Union set up the Computer Emergency Response Team to help protect consumers of communication services (including the internet) in Uganda.
Useful guidance for internet safety;
- Remain positively engaged: Pay attention to and know the online environments your children use. Surf the Internet with them. Appreciate your children’s participation in their online communities and show interest in their friends. Try to react constructively when they encounter inappropriate material. Make it a teachable moment.
- Support their good choices: Expand your children’s online experience and their autonomy when developmentally appropriate, as they demonstrate competence in safe and secure online behaviour and ethical decision making.
- Keep a clean Computer: Safety and security start with protecting all family computers with a security suite (anti-virus, anti-spyware, and firewall) that is set to update automatically. Keep your operating system, web browsers, and software current as well and back up computer files regularly.
- Know the protection features of the websites and software your children use: All major Internet service providers (ISPs) have tools to help you manage young children’s online experience (e.g., selecting approved websites, monitoring the amount of time they spend online, or limiting the people who can contact them) and may have other security features, such as pop-up blockers. Third-party tools are also available. However, remember that your home isn’t the only place they can go online.
- Review privacy settings: Look at the privacy settings available on social networking sites, cell phones, and other social tools your children use. Decide together which settings provide the appropriate amount of protection for each child.
- Teach critical thinking: Help your children identify safe, credible Web sites and other digital content, and be cautious about clicking on, downloading, posting, and uploading content.
- Explain the implications: Help your children understand the public nature of the Internet and its risks as well as benefits. Be sure they know that any digital info they share, such as emails, photos, or videos, can easily be copied and pasted elsewhere, and is almost impossible to take back. Things that could damage their reputation, friendships, or prospects should not be shared electronically.
- Help them be good digital citizens: Remind your children to be good “digital friends” by respecting personal information of friends and family and not sharing anything about others that is potentially embarrassing or hurtful.
- Just saying “no” rarely works: Teach your children how to interact safely with people they “meet” online. Though it’s preferable they make no in-person contact with online-only acquaintances; young people may not always follow this rule. So talk about maximising safe conditions: meeting only in public places, always taking at least one friend, and telling a trusted adult about any plans they make – including the time, location, and acquaintance’s contact information (at least a name and cell phone number). Remind them to limit sharing personal information with new friends.
- Empower your children to handle issues: Your children may deal with situations online such as bullying, unwanted contact, or hurtful comments. Work with them on strategies for when problems arise, such as talking to a trusted adult, not retaliating, calmly talking with the person, blocking the person, or filing a complaint. Agree on steps to take if the strategy fails.
- Encourage your children to be “digital leaders:” Help ensure they master the safety and security techniques of all technology they use. Support their positive and safe engagement in online communities. Please encourage them to help others accomplish their goals. Urge them to help if friends are making poor choices or being harmed.