I walked into my niece’s room and found her busy making colourful bands.
“What are these for?” I asked.
“That’s lovely,” and then as a thought struck me, I added, “Are you making them for your friends online?”
“No!!! What a question! How do you think I would give these to them? Virtually? These bands only for real friends.”
Happy as I was to hear that, I couldn’t help adding a parting shot, “Really? Then why do you share so much about yourself with these virtual friends?”
We spent the next few minutes thinking about friends and friendship.
The charm of school and college life lies in friends- the better the group of friends you have the more enjoyable your student life is. Such friendships stand the test of time and can be revived even after years of separation.
If adults can be duped, then aren’t the highly impressionable teens also at risk? Even tech-savvy kids tend to be duped by fake profiles so the smart parenting thing to do is to create awareness beforehand.
Friendship Day is the perfect time to initiate a discussion with your kids on how to establish if online friends are actual people. Start by administering this quiz on real vs. online friends:
Who are your real friends? (Check the boxes that apply):
- You know them well in person
- Your parents know them too, and approve of them
- You are most probably studying in the same school or college
- You live in the same apartment block or neighborhood
- You have shared interests and know each other’s strengths and weaknesses
- You have been to each another’s house
- You know they will accept you the way you are and never embarrass you in public
- You trust them
Then, ask them to tick the boxes that apply for their virtual friends and follow it up with a discussion.
Takeaway: The online world holds infinite promises and possibilities but they can be realized only when the user is judicious and careful. In the early years of adolescence, it’s better to keep virtual friends limited to known people.
Next in line is to find ways to identify fake profiles and learn to block and report:
Teach kids to identify fake profiles online:
- Profile – Profile pictures is very attractive but there are rarely any family, group pictures
- Name- The name sounds weird or is misspelled
- Bio – The personal details are sketchy
- Friend list – Have no common friends
- Posts – The posts and choice of videos make you feel uncomfortable or are clearly spams
- Verification – A Google search throws up random names for profile pic
Show kids how to block and report fake profiles:
- Save: If you had erroneously befriended a suspicious person, no worries. Keep records of all conversations by taking screen shots, or copy + pasting or through a print screen command
- Unfriend: Remove the user from your friend list
- Block: Prevent the person from harassing you with friend requests in future by using the blocking function
- Flag: Report suspicious profiles to the social media site to help them check and remove such profiles and maintain the hygiene of the platform
Share digital safety tips:
- Practice STOP. THINK. CONNECT. -Do not be in a hurry to hike friend count and choose your friends wisely
- Share with care: Be a miser when it comes to sharing personal details like name, pictures, travel and contact details online. The less shared, the better it is for the child
- Review privacy and security: Check all your posts periodically and delete those you don’t like. Maximize account security and keep privacy at max
Finally, share this message with your kids.
On Friendship Day, pledge to be a good friend to your real friends and limit your online friends to those you know well in real life. Secure your online world by using security tools on your devices and acting judiciously online. If you act responsibly online, you not only make your digital world safer but also help to secure the digital worlds of your friends. That’s the sign of an ideal digital citizen.