Parenting in a Pandemic: Safety can turn online time into quality time

The past year and a half has been critical for everyone, as we’ve strived to curb the pandemic and address its long-term impacts. COVID-19 is not just a threat to our health and livelihood, but to our children’s as well.

Like adults, young children and teens are tackling their share of difficulties in the real and digital world.

From social distancing to online schooling, the pandemic has placed psychological pressure on children, who’ve been constantly exposed to tremendous amounts of information and anxiety passed on by their parents and other adults.

The long-term effects of remote classes on students’ wellbeing and behavior

The academic year has shown that the abrupt shift to remote classes and crash course learning has many disadvantages, as students long for the social aspects of more traditional education. In addition to the struggles of balancing school and home life, the provisional state of the digital classroom has lowered motivation among students everywhere.

“Regardless of how convenient online classes may seem, they’re a temporary solution – solving the problem here and now,” Bitdefender’s Behavioral Analyst NansiLungu explains. “And just like any quick fix, it shows the classic signs of any short-lived transition: it’s not so serious, we’re not even at school, we’re not in our environment, we don’t see each other anymore, it’s a period we have to go through, not one we need to focus on.”

Moreover, without the clearly outlined environment of the traditional classroom, many students perceived remote learning as more of a holiday, he adds.

During times of uncertainty, routine changes have unfortunately intensified disruptive behavior among some children. Those who were not comfortable expressing themselves in the physical classroom found courage in the virtual classroom, displaying new forms of student misbehavior such as disruptions of virtual class sessions, academic disengagement, absenteeism, cyberbullying or sending inappropriate messages to students and teachers.

School closure and the disruption of social life has placed children and adolescents at greater risk of exposure to cyberbullying, making this form of online harassment more prevelant than ever before.It can happen anywhere in the online world, but it’s especially prevalent on social media – platforms that are highly sought after by pre-teens and teenagers. Hurtful comments, threats and denigration can have serious and long-lasting psychological impact on the victim. While it may be hard to determine when and where cyberbullying is taking place, parents should actively look for red flags and work with the child to spot the harassment.Children must know they have a safety net to turn to and feel comfortable sharinganything with their parents.

More unsupervised screen time leads to riskier online behavior that endangers children’s safety

Children havespent more time online during the pandemic, using smart devices to connect with others via social media and gaming platforms.

Long unsupervised screen time repeatedly encouraged by parents has unquestionably led to riskier online behaviors and access to inappropriate content by children. It has also created more opportunities for predators, who, unlike many caretakers and parents, are highly versatile in using popular apps and platforms preferred by kids.

NansiLungu points to a very clear link between less united families and children who fall victim to online predators.

“Children fall into the trap when their relationship with their parents is not exactly good,” he notes. “They tend to get fooled by shady individuals, trusting them completely.”

In most cases, the child or teen will start sending pictures of themselves and provide personal data that predators can use to blackmail their victims.

Children need to be prepared to see the real dangers in the online world, spot the red flags, and immediately talk to the parent to report to local authorities.

Although parents need to be extra vigilant regarding digital technologies used by younger children, teens can be allowed more autonomy and less invasive monitoring, as long as a strong level of trust and openness is created.

Here’s five easy steps to help keep your child safe while using his favorite platforms and apps

Taking time to teach your child about online threats can go a long way in fending off against online predators, cyberbullying and malicious attacks:

  • Help keep online accounts private by tweaking the privacy settings, and ensuring that your child’s profile information can only be seen by friends and family
  • Highlight the importance of not accepting friend or message requests from strangers, and encourage limiting the information and media files (pictures and videos) they share online.
  • Review app permissions and settings and help set up unique and strong passwords for all online accounts
  • Talk to your child or teen about online threats including fake pop-ups and adds, phishing emails, fake texts or phone calls
  • Teach children to always report suspicious activity on accounts, bad behavior, and urge them never to provide sensitive information such as their phone number, physical address or school name with anyone they meet online

A child becomes vulnerable when he lacks a sense of community and understanding in his household. Parents should make the most of relaxing social distancing measures to help children reconnect to the real world outside of social networks and online games. Preventing compensatory behaviors in response to anxiety-causing events will help children get back to their normal rhythms, concentrating on what matters – physical and mental wellbeing that helps nurture their growth as individuals in the real world.

There’s no one right answer for ensuring quality and safety in the digital landscape during the health crisis. Due to a lack of options, it may seem impossible to cut down on your child’s screen time. However, balancing a healthy online social life with offline activities that help your child build or enhance skills can make a real difference. Regardless of the pandemic, children need a way to return to their normal rhythms and must be encouraged to find joy and comfort outside digital technologies and platforms.