PARENTING IN THE TIME OF CORONA: Children must be safe on the internet as well

Thursday 19 March 2020

Text and photo: Almir Panjeta / Save the Children                              

At the time when schools are closed because of the threat of the corona virus, classes, for most children, are held online. This is one of the great opportunities that the Internet provides - information and knowledge for everyone, wherever they are. However, this increased “stay” of children in the Internet environment means that they are more exposed to the risks posed by the Internet.

Many parents now also work from home, they need to be able to devote themselves to their work tasks and the internet may seem like the easiest way to entertain children while they work. But just as they would not leave the children alone in the middle of a busy street, parents should not leave them alone on the Internet.

Save the Children has been working to raise awareness among parents over the past few years about the risks children face online. Many parents were astonished by this knowledge. Read about their experiences below.

Kids are way ahead of us with technology today

"Useful and scary!", this is the joint assessment of parents of Travnik High School students in Nova Bila after the lecture titled "Responsible Parenting in a Digital Environment", held at this school as part of activities within the project “End Violence Against Children: Preventing and Tackling Online Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in Bosnia and Herzegovina”.

“Parents need this type of lectures. We received a lot of new information and anyone who loves their child will listen.  We learned a lot about what will be useful for us, but also many things that scared us at first because as much as we tried to keep track of everything, we were still unaware of the many dangers. In technological sense, children are ahead of us today, but we can and must follow them, and we need to learn a lot because of that, and this is why I think we need as many lectures and workshops as possible”, says Violeta Mišković.

“(My son) is 16 years old, and when he is not studying, he often spends his time on his mobile phone, playing games and on social media. When he goes out, we know where he is and with whom, when he is in his room, I know he is alone, but I really didn’t know that he is talking to and hanging out with someone over the game.  We will definitely talk to him more on this topic, we will watch together the movie we watched at the workshop, and I will also talk to other parents and suggest that they become more acquainted with all this”, Violeta adds.

After the workshop, the president of the Council of Parents of Travnik High School Drago Bavrka was also overwhelmed:

“We need to talk over and over to our children about this topic. I think the children were also supposed to be here today, to hear all this together, to 'face this'. In terms of technology, children are ahead of us, for example I don’t use the mobile phone, but my children do. However, even though they are more familiar with the technology, I do not think they are aware enough of the dangers they may encounter along with all the useful things on the Internet and they think they know everything.  After such lectures, we have a clearer picture of the scope of problems, and we need to get the whole system involved”, says Drago Bavrka.

Ivica Augustinović, Expert Advisor at the Department of Education and Science of the Ministry of Education, Science, Youth, Culture and Sports of the Central Bosnia Canton (CBC) is one of the lecturers at the workshop who has previously undergone training, as well as Marin Garić, an expert in computer science at the Ministry of Education CBC.

“Parents respond positively, but always with a dose of shock and mild disbelief. In addition to the theoretical part, we offer them plenty of data that substantiate everything we tell them, we play educational films, and most importantly - we always talk to them and ask them what they think they need to do and we jointly conclude what they can do in the best interest of the children”, says Ivica Augustinović.

Although an expert in computer science, Marin Garić says that he, as well as other colleagues, learned a lot about the dangers that children face on the Internet at the training he attended in Brčko.

"All the stories we tell to parents and those that have been told to us before are true and are from our environment.  We explain to parents that this is not something that happens in some far-off countries, but what happens and can happen here“, Garić said, adding that he himself played many video games during his studies:

"And from that point of view, I am addressing the parents, but Ivica and I are also addressing them as someone who is also a parent, so together we come up with the best solutions, and most often, that it takes a lot of talking and communication with the children and that it is not enough just to give them a smart-phone or a computer and let them go without instructions and supervision."

"The Internet has its useful sides, which is why I don't think it should be completely prohibited to children, but it certainly needs control and as much knowledge as possible. When you let children out on the street, you tell them to be careful when crossing the road, to watch where they will go and whom to speak and also not to communicate with strangers.  You should tell them similarly when they go on the Internet and inform them about possible dangers in order to be as safe as possible in the internet space. Children need the presence of parents and you need to talk to them, even if you don’t know how to turn on the computer”, these are some of the messages from the lecture.

“Responsible Parenting in a Digital Environment” Workshop held at this school is part of activities within the project "Prevention and Work on the Prevention of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Children in the Digital Environment in BiH”, implemented by the above mentioned Ministry with the support of a Consortium consisting of the UNICEF, International Solidarity Forum (IFS) - Emmaus and Save the Children. The project is supported by the The Global Fund to End Violence Against Children (EVAC) and covers a wide range of activities to raise awareness of the risks to children on the Internet and prevent the exploitation and abuse of children online.

In Central Bosnia Canton (CBC) the project is being implemented since 2018 and in the 2019/2020 school year, more than 30 workshops for teachers and parents are organized. As a part of the entire project implementation, educational workshops were held in which 1130 parents from Tuzla and Central Bosnia Cantons were educated, as well as 724 parents from Brčko District. In addition, and in order to ensure the highest possible coverage of children through internet safety education in these areas, trainings were organized for 786 primary and secondary school teachers.

The School Counselor at “Travnik” High School Oliver Lovrinović says that workshops like this are useful as part of activities that have been conducted in the past and that progress has already been noticed.

"We have had previous cyber-bullying cases, some photos have been shared, there have also been cases of arranged fights over social networks. Through contacts with parents, children, and the organization of several similar lectures, we have been able to build trust, empower children and encourage them to contact us and seek help, and the Violence Protection Protocol has offered us solutions on how to act in these cases and who is responsible for what, so that the situation is significantly improved, and workshops with parents and teachers make an additional contribution”, says Olivera Lovrinović.

Ines Grabovac, a computer science teacher at “Bila” Elementary School, has been trained as a lecturer through the Project and shares knowledge to her colleagues at the aforementioned workshops at CBC schools.

“I’ve received my training in Brčko at the end of 2018, and I was personally shocked by some of the information I heard there, although I kept a close eye on the issues and tried to be as informed as possible. I also see similar reactions of my colleagues now that I find myself in the role of lecturer”, says Ines Grabovac, adding that the reactions of the teachers are positive:

“They find the workshops useful and we can see that they need as much information and knowledge as possible about the guidelines on how to act in the case of violence that children encounter in the online space and to know how to behave when the children ask for help. They ask us to leave presentations and educational films to them so that they can then show them to the colleagues at their schools, at class meetings or parent meetings.”

Ines held her first workshop at the school where she teaches, and says that the turnout was good.  Teacher Sandra Drmić was among those who attended the workshop.

“I was present as a class teacher, but also as a parent, and I was slightly taken aback. I knew about some cases before, and I thought something like this could not happen to us, and after the workshop I asked myself:  And why could it not happen? And not just me”, says Sandra Drmić, adding that everything she heard at the workshop triggered her immediately:

“I went home from the workshop and immediately talked to my daughter, and then to the children in class and to their parents. I think a lot has to be done in raising awareness and informing parents, who need to find enough time for their children."

Teacher Ines, who is an eighth-grade class teacher says that she takes as much time as she can to talk to children about the topic of internet safety. Students of VIIIb grade - Ema, Blanka, Marija and Ivona - whom we met at the consultation with the class teacher, say they are pleased with the information they receive from her and from their parents. They say they have accounts on almost all social networks, but that they are closed and accessible only to a narrow circle of friends.

"We talk about everything with the class teacher.  We also watched the story of Amanda Todd from Canada who was abused by her peers on the internet and talked about what had happened to her, and we try to be aware of the dangers and talk about everything with the peers”, this is what the girls told us and added that they would like their peers to listen to them more:

"Unfortunately, some students don’t take anything seriously, and when we try to tell them something and explain it, they don't want to hear us. Still, many listen, we talk about everything, and if there is a problem, we turn to our parents or teachers.”

They say they have not experienced any major inconvenience in the online world, but they are aware of the dangers:

"There have been cases of strangers contacting us, sending us a message or a friend request, but we either do not respond or we block them. There have been some instances of montages in Photoshop appearing and circulating in different groups, but so far they have mostly been humorous, although some have encountered more difficult cases.”

The school psychologist at “Bila” Primary School also thinks that informing children, parents and teachers about the safe use of the Internet and the dangers that children may encounter in the online space is important.

"We need to familiarize children with everything that can happen to them in the online world, and parents with how they can control it and reduce it to normal level, and how to monitor children who are technically advanced since we already have today three-year-olds who know how to download and use a variety of applications.”

Since the internet users are children of different ages and therefore have different perceptions and knowledge about how to protect themselves, the Project implements a national response model developed by the WeProtect Alliance, which foresees among most important activities the education of parents, which involves developing their basic digital competencies, developing a general awareness of the dangers of the Internet and obtaining the right tools to help them better protect their children in an online environment. Also, a curriculum on safe internet use for primary and secondary schools is in its preparation phase.

Practical advice to parents

Agree with your children a schedule for using the internet for learning and fun. Be sure to include other types of activities, including physical activity, in their schedule, and if you work from home, make sure your children take breaks and keep track of what they are doing.

Early signs of recognizing the effects of child abuse on the Internet:

• hides screen, phone, tablet when a parent or other person get in the room

• rushes to another website when he or she senses the presence of another person

• acts nervously when using a computer, laptop, tablet or phone

• is nervous when they receive a message on the phone or computer

• spends a lot of time online at computer or phone

• avoids friends, going out

• opens new profiles on social networks

• receives calls from strangers

• school success is weak, as is interest in school and learning

What should you advise your children about online protection?

• Never give your real name and information to strangers

• Write about yourself generally, without details

• Block strangers at social networks

• If a child receives threats or is otherwise endangered, they should report it immediately

To whom children need to report internet violence?

• To parents

• Teachers, psychologists or educators (or other adult they trust)

• Hotline and helpline: and Plavi telefon (Blue phone) 080 05 03 05