WHATSAPP MESSAGE CREATES FEAR AMONG PARENTS; EXPERTS CALL FOR MORE PARENTAL SUPERVISION OF INTERNET ACCESS
Experts in Oman have expressed concern over an Internet game purportedly linked to the deaths of 130 teenagers in Russia, three in Columbia and few in Brazil. Some teenagers even harmed themselves in Chile and Portugal while another was admitted to a psychiatric ward in Spain after playing this game.
There are now reports that the game has made its way to the UK. After WhatsApp messages were forwarded to groups in Oman regarding the so called ‘deadly game’, some parents are worried. Muscat Daily spoke to child psychologists to help raise awareness regarding such situations.
Hassan Mirza, child and adolescent psychiatrist at Sultan Qaboos University Hospital, said, “The Blue Whale suicide challenge is believed to be controlled by an online group which preys on vulnerable young people. The basic idea of the game is believed to be allocating tasks over a course of 50 days in which a young person, typically a teenager, is asked to carry out challenges discreetly, such as self-harm, and sending photographic evidence of this behaviour back to the administrator of the game.”
On the final day of the challenge, the teens are supposedly instructed by their ‘master’ to commit suicide. Mirza said that though deaths have been linked to this game in some countries “none of the investigations have concluded that they were directly linked”.
Speaking to Muscat Daily , Nadia Sultan, educational psychologist, Inspire Educational Consultancy, said, “I think raising awareness is very important – not in the case of this very worrying Internet game, which is said to have claimed so many lives – but more widely about the impact of excessive gaming on young people.”
Nadia said that parents should be aware what their children are accessing on the Web and must have some control over it. “They need to be aware of the possible dangers of the ‘online world’. Schools are an integral part of this process and must educate children on the dos and don’ts of the online world. Obviously, the authorities should intervene in the case of this particular game and ensure that this particular ‘trend’ does not make its way here.”
Teenagers tend to be more influenced by their friends than their parents – this is very typical of teens and adolescents, so working with that age group and educating them about the possible dangers is important, she added. “Schools should hold workshops for different age groups about these issues and get teenagers involved in the discussions. This is one particularly terrible online game, but there are other ongoing risks such as cyberbullying and other more sinister risks, so ‘prevention’ and ‘education’ are crucial,” she added.
Nadia said that what is known from recent research is that the teenage brain undergoes significant changes and is in a developing stage. “Teenagers tend to take risks naturally but the part of the brain (the pre-frontal cortex) that is responsible for impulse control and exercising judgement is not fully developed until the mid-20s. This is, therefore, a particularly vulnerable group as it is.”
She advised that in addition to talking to and spending time with their children, parents should be vigilant about any big changes in their behaviour or mood. “Parents must stay in touch with the school and also know about their children’s friends. Parents also must seek advice from experts if needed and encourage their children to do the same like talking to school counsellors, social workers and psychologists.”
Mirza said that vigilance is needed when such disturbing news breaks out and goes viral, “but more important is spending quality time with your children and knowing about their whereabouts and how they spend their time when using modern technology”. “Young people with low self-confidence and suffering from loneliness may indulge in self-harming behaviour. Therefore, seeking professional help when early warning signs are there may play a crucial role in the prevention of such behaviours.”
Tips to keep your children safe online
1. With mobile apps being literally child’s play, parents need to mandatorily set up controls so that you need to enter a password before children can download an app. Age appropriate settings should be made in Google Play or App store accounts to prevent young children from downloading inappropriate content.
2. Kids are easily drawn to online offers for popular products, apps, YouTube videos, music and games – all of which are easily spoofed. They make certain offers so enticing that kids and at times even adults click, download and/or enter personal information to get the deal. This is often hard to monitor. So, teach your child to use a made up name, addresses and email for use at websites and apps. Do not ever share your address, phone number or other personal information online with strangers.
3. Set your profile to private in social media accounts. This way only people you invite can see what you post. Teach your children to post privately instead of having public posts.
4. If someone says or does something that makes them uncomfortable, encourage your child to block them and not respond. You should also tell them to share details about such incidents with you.
5. Post with caution. Be cautious about sharing provocative photos or intimate details online. What you say in a chat session is live and will be on the Internet – you cannot delete it later. Parents should cultivate a sense of openness with their children that they know who their friends are and what they are up to online.
6. Read between the “lines” – it may be fun to meet new people online for friendship, but be aware that flattering or supportive messages may be more about manipulation.
7. Non-academic use of the Internet and smartphones or tablets/PCs should be allowed only for a limited period of time and under general supervision by parents or a trusted adult/guardian. Use parental control software like NetNanny, Qustodio, Kaspersky Safe Kids etc (preferably one with a social media tracker).
8. Talk to your children about online dangers and the need to maintain good online reputation. Social media accounts should not be allowed before mid-teens and once allowed, parents should insist on being able to check posts every once in a while.
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