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Use it safely: advice for parents

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It is one of our most important tasks to ensure and safeguard our children's safety. Our job is relatively easy when we want to ensure physical safety: cycling, playground accidents, winter cold, deep water, insect bites, wounds - we all know what to do. However, the virtual world and electronic facilitation devices, like computers, laptops, tablets, smart phones are becoming more and more important part of our children's everyday life. Online content – as it comes from multiple sources - may carry risks for which parents have to prepare their children.

But first we have to know the technologies, devices and naturally the content. Take your time: sit down with your children, see what is interesting for them, know it - and discuss it. Tell them what risks they may be exposed to, what they can do in these situations and whom they can turn to - whenever it is necessary. We would like to assist parents by listing potential internet exposures and showing the way to avoid them. We show them how to use children protection tools and provide various technical information, useful tips and contact information.

Nevertheless, the most important thing is to build a trusting children-parent relationship. With this we can make sure that our children come to us first whenever they face problems.

 

Use of content, interfaces

Computers, mobile phones, TV sets - the tool is only of secondary importance as the content is identical in many cases. That is why we have to teach our children how to use content smart and responsibly. The individual devices – mobile, laptop, tablet, TV – play a secondary role: in that respect we primarily focus on data protection .

The use of content can be a one-way action (i.e. browsing, reading websites, watch TV) but interactive, community use is more general.  Social media sites, like Facebook, iWiw and MySpace, are important information hubs. Nowadays almost all high-school students have their own profile. They try to express their personality through the profile and for that purpose they share photos, videos, posts, data. These profiles are not always identical with their real personality, in many cases they reflect wishful thinking and the children show a virtual, imaginary person to the outer world. The most frequently used channels of social media sites are thematic, closed groups and inbuilt chat programs with video display features (some are not linked to the social media site, e.g. Skype) There are also moderated thematic chat rooms where the registrants may talk to each other under the moderator's supervision.

Twitter, where short messages are exchanged, is a bit different from community sites but it is just as successful. The short messages posted in Twitter are mainly about momentary activities, feelings, thoughts and users can be followed. Many use video- and photo sharing sites, like YouTube, Videa, Instagram (smart phones), Flickrt, Pinterest (thematic photo sharing site) and certain Google services. The list could be longer; but these are the most popular ones in Hungary.  Real communities can be formed among visitors of a specific portal, forum or blog through comments and shared content.

Watching TV is more traditional because it gives less community experience. This is the media that children come across the earliest therefore is has a key importance from a content consumption perspective.

 

Use of content, risk zones

Various content may pose several risks for children, but the most important thing is the clear and sharp distinction between the real and the virtual world. This starts at a very early age with tales (offline): the good and bad characters of tales told/read by parents are not real. At this age the real and the virtual world constitute the same entity - although later they are separated from each other. However, children need bad characters even at this early age. Bad characters help children to work on their fears and distress and they may create these negative characters themselves with the use of their imagination. Unfortunately TV programs do not help this process. When watching TV children do not need to use their imagination and they get "ready-made" positive and negative characters.

Social media sites allow very small children to register on the site. (Sometimes their parents set up their data sheet). These profiles are often different from the real personality and reflect an imaginary profile - the children create an online personality with the uploaded photos, videos. Interestingly - and in spite of general thinking - by this age children learn to separate their real and virtual lives. The online world for a child who has strong social relations and bonds is only a supplementary space of existence.  However, it is quite different with lonely children who do not have friends: in their case the online world may replace reality.

Being a teenager is the time of self expression and self-actualization. Many teenagers try to express themselves in community websites, which is natural. However, sometimes they fall in the extremes: to express their femininity many girls take photos in erotic poses - and share them in social media sites. This is sexting, which often leads to abuse, like ill-intentioned comments, forwarding and sharing the photos to external parties, even cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is mental harassment: hostile comments and explicit sexual offers coming outside from the social network may make the victim's everyday life miserable. This may lead to depression and suicide.

Entering the online world with our real personal data may lead to the misuse of this information. Once you post something in the internet (even if you only tag something in Facebook) it will always remain there. Without our knowledge and consent our data may enter databases and – by way of phising – they can be misused up to the point of the theft of the entire personality.

Downloading files may also carry certain risks. On the one hand downloaded files may contain viruses while downloading illegal content is crime. This is especially important in the case of films and music downloaded from torrent sites.