Published: Friday July 10, 2009 MYT 12:34:00 PM
Think before handing out phones to kids
KUALA LUMPUR: An expert from Britain believes that giving children a handphone from too young an age could make them more vulnerable to bullies and cyberbullies.Will Gardner, Childnet International UK chief executive officer, said children that get mobile phones from as young as six years become very attached to the device, especially smartphones that connect to the Internet.
“They become so attached to the phone that taking it away would be like depriving them of a part of their life,” he said. “Some even take to sleeping with the phone under their pillow every night.”
According to Gardner, this could lead to mentally unhealthy circumstances, including an increase in the potential for the child to be bullied or cyberbullied via the cellphone. And since the phone is always with them, such bullying could occur 24-7. Childnet International is a non-profit organisation dedicated to making the Internet a safer place for children.
In a blur
Gardner said that studies in Britain show that many of that country’s youngsters (those below age 18) have at some time received unwanted sexual advances or nasty comments online, which includes texting, chats and e-mail.
“What’s even more disturbing is that only a few of the parents knew about the incidents,” he said.
He said children are usually reluctant to tell their parents about such happenings because they are not sure if their parents will understand.
“Also, if a kid has a problem in a chatroom, he or she may not go to the parents because the adults may not even know what a chatroom is!” he told his audience at the Internet Safety Awareness seminar here this week.
In such instances, he said, “Kids can educate their parents. It (education) should be a two-way thing.”
Cyberbullying is also a major problem in Britain. “Cyberbullies don’t have to be big and strong; all they need is to have online access,” said Gardner.
There are no known statistics on cyberbullying in Malaysia.
All must police
According to Gardner, combating cyberbullies is a responsibility that needs to be shared by parents, school authorities and the police. Aside from cyberbullying, another online danger to children is pornography, which is the more obvious of the two and is already being pro-actively countered. Fadilah Yusof, Deputy Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, said local cyberspace watchdog CyberSecurity Malaysia seeks out and shuts down pornsites.
To date, he said, 33 such sites have been blocked or shut down over the past few years, with another 15 sites being investigated. Action was taken after the public complained to CyberSecurity Malaysia. Parents were also advised to ensure that they have adequate Internet filters on home PCs that are used by their children.
The seminar was attended by more than 300 participants, comprising parents, teachers and students in the Klang Valley.