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Sarah Taryam: Not Internet, users need to be monitored
May 02, 2012
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We’ve been warned on the perils of the Internet so many times that it seems to fall on deaf ears now. Reading about the recent case of the 14-year-old Emirati girl who was blackmailed and assaulted by a man she had befriended on an Internet chat room, I was horrified.

When I was a teenager, it was not that long ago, our time on the Internet was reduced to weekends, rarely weekdays. At the weekends, my siblings and I were allowed to go online. This angered me at the time. Comparing myself to those friends who had computers and Internet connections in their rooms I felt hard done by, it was so unfair! Comparison is the thief of joy, as one of my dear friends likes to remind me.

But now, looking back, I am so grateful for those boundaries set by my parents. I am so glad that we did not have Twitter and Facebook when I was in high school. We socialised in the normal way, face to face and not behind a screen. I am not glorifying the good old days, but one cannot deny that the negative impacts of living a virtual life outweigh and overshadow any positives.

In a recent report in The Independent, Rhodri Marsden wrote ,“In the age of self-serve and online, many of us spend days without speaking to anyone.”

This has sadly become the case for too many adults, let alone teenagers. We retreat to our bedrooms with our laptops and BlackBerrys and proceed to chat without opening our mouths. It’s unhealthy, it’s causing people to lack basic social skills.

Children as young as seven are now using the Internet for homework. Of course we have to embrace technology, but it must be done with balance. No seven-year-old should be left unattended on the Internet.

Online activity of young teenagers needs to be monitored, of course not all of them are naïve but your average teen is not mature. In our society especially, where we are still conservative, teenagers may feel they are able to behave online in a way that they would not behave in society, in front of people. Youngsters in same sex schools may find that the Internet is their way of meeting more people.

However, cases of youngsters being tricked on the Internet are not confined to any particular region. In recent years the United Kingdom has had several cases with tragic ends. In October 2009 17-year-old Ashleigh Hall told her mother she was going to sleep at a friend’s house, when in fact she had arranged to meet a teenage boy she had befriended on Facebook. The teenage boy turned out to be a 33-year-old man with a history of sexual violence. Ashleigh’s body was discovered dumped in a ditch. The man was convicted of her rape and murder and jailed for life.

Following this horrific crime, Facebook issued warnings to under 18’s to be cautious about who they met online and gave instructions on how to stay more safe.

There must be open communication between children and parents. Parents cannot assume that their children are safe because they are at home surfing the Net and not out in a mall. Know which sites your children visit, if they have an account on a social networking site, try and know who they are in contact with.

It’s about awareness, awareness on all sides. Kids need to become more aware, and parents need to become more aware. The case of the 14-year-old Emirati girl should serve as an example  of just how easy it is to be fooled by people online. People posing as friends, or even family.
 
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