Parents must ensure Internet wellness in kids

Clinical psychologist Carol Balhetchet has seen first-hand how the Internet wreaks havoc on young lives.

One of her patients suffered from severe depression and another became suicidal after being criticised online.

“The impact such emotional experiences can have on the youth can be long-lasting,” said Dr Balhetchet.

Anorexia or even adult psychological issues can stem from incidences that occur in one’s youth, she added.

Results of a study done by Singtel and global digital literacy group DQ Institute released this month showed that 54 per cent of children aged eight to 12 are exposed to cyber risks.

These risks include cyber bullying, video game addiction, offline meetings and online sexual behaviour.

The study surveyed 38,000 children across 29 countries.

Children who own a mobile phone are more susceptible to such online vulnerabilities, the study revealed.

They spend 15 more hours a week online than children who do not own a mobile phone, and 70 per cent of them are exposed to cyber risk, compared with 45 per cent in the latter group.

To help parents and children look out for potential risks, Singtel and DQ Institute launched the #DQEveryChild programme, a digital intelligence programme targeted at primary schools in Singapore.

The collaboration between the two organisations will also see the release of a physical handbook for parents, as well as workshops and online campaigns to help parents work better with their children in the online world.

The involvement of parents is a crucial aspect of ensuring Internet wellness in young children.

Ms Evonne Lek, a family therapist, said: “Children often turn to gaming and social media as a way to avoid negative emotions.

“I have seen cases where children immersed themselves in games so that they do not have to think about their unhappy family environments.”

Parents can also make use of technology – such as parental supervision apps Qustodio and OurPact – to monitor and, in some cases, control their child’s mobile phone and Internet usage.

But experts said these methods are still secondary to parents encouraging open communication at home.

Said psychologist Elizabeth Nair: “The Internet can affect the mindset and mental health of children. So if parents are there and provide an environment of trust, children will be able to speak to them and raise issues before they become more severe.”