November 12, 2019

Watching over: Why mothers must be educated on digital safety

Illustration by Aniqa Haider

It’s the year 2019. Children are exposed to the internet before they can even start speaking or walking. It is a settled fact that the internet can be an unsafe place and while the parent may only use the devices as an entertainment or distraction tool, they might be unaware of what their child may be getting exposed to each day. From cyber bullying to pornographic pop-up ads, the internet is a dangerous place to maneuver even for adults.  

The safety of children is everyone’s concern, but why are we particularly interested in the role of women regarding this matter? In a country like Pakistan that has been a victim of gender stereotypes for the longest time, it will not be incorrect to suggest that women often end up as the primary caregiver to the children. The father seems to assume the role of the breadwinner in most cases, spending a considerable amount of time outside the house. Therefore, in situations like these, there needs to be strong emphasis on educating women, not just in technology, but in every aspect of life so that they are able to perform their parenting duties in a much better manner. 

I cannot read English properly, but my son can, and most of the time I do not understand the things he is looking at online

Farah, mother to a 10-year-old

The existing gender gap in literacy rate and internet usage are the key problems here. The difficulties women face when trying to access basic education ultimately affects the future generation. With regards to tech awareness, women in Pakistan, especially those living in the rural areas, do not get access to the internet as easily as men do. The lack of knowledge about the digital world leaves them with the inability to safely navigate their online presence. At a later stage when they have children, they may not be able to effectively monitor and control their child’s online activities. 

Speaking to a woman named Farah, who resides in the suburbs of Islamabad and works as a tailor, expresses some concern about her ten-year-old son’s smart phone usage. “Most of the times he will stay in his corner of the house glued to the screen and refuses to show me what he is doing, sometimes I let him be and sometimes it frustrates me that I am not aware of his activities.” Farah received no formal education and communicated her frustration of her lack of knowledge relating to technology. “I cannot read English properly, but my son can, and most of the time I do not understand the things he is looking at online”. However, when speaking to one of her clients, she said she did understand that the internet could be a dangerous place which threatened children’s well-being. 

Even though there are a number of applications and hardware devices that enable parents to screen the content and alert them when harmful content appears, not enough people know of them or how they are operated

Women like Farah are in dire need of training with regards to technology and cyber-security for the sake of their children. The effects of harmful content online can impact a child’s emotional development and the effects can last a lifetime. 

One of the most common evils is that of pornographic content online. A child does not need to access a pornographic website to be exposed to such content. Obscene advertisements pop up any time during browsing along with links that lead you to explicit sites in a matter of seconds. Even though there are a number of applications and hardware devices that enable parents to screen the content and alert them when harmful content appears, not enough people know of them or how they are operated. 

There have been numerous incidents of children and teenagers committing suicides due to cyber-bullying. This is hard to monitor since bullying messages and content cannot be filtered as easily as pornographic ones

Saira, a mother of three, hails from a rural background but resides in central Islamabad with her husband and children.  Saira claims that she was not given the privilege of a cell phone or a laptop until she got married, which was in second year of college. Almost immediately, her first child was born. With her husband constantly traveling for work, Saira was often on her own when it came to dealing with challenging situations with the children. She talks about the struggles of regulating her children’s online presence, trying to make them as safe as possible. She reveals that in the beginning, she was not even aware of how to access browsing history and took her a great deal of time to learn about parental controls and now feels extremely confident about her children’s internet usage. 

Tech literacy for women is as important as anything else and absolutely vital in order to protect the upcoming digitally connected generations.

Apart from pornographic and explicit content, children are now more at risk to be exposed to bullying online than ever. Cyber-bullying works almost in the same way as bullying in real life, and is equally, if not more, dangerous. There have been numerous incidents of children and teenagers committing suicides due to cyber-bullying. This is hard to monitor since bullying messages and content cannot be filtered as easily as pornographic ones. The solution lies in developing strong communication with children in order to create a relationship of trust. Most of the times it has been noted that the victim’s parents have been unaware of the abuse, which can easily be prevented. 

While we are already working towards decreasing the gender gap in terms of internet access, children’s online safety can be another motivating factor for this cause. Since the bond between a mother and her child is so strong and unique, investing in her education can have a positive impact on future generations. Tech literacy for women is as important as anything else and absolutely vital in order to protect the upcoming digitally connected generations.

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