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MEDIA-ASIA: Parents Try to Keep Up with Net-savvy Youngsters

BANGKOK, Apr 21 2010 (IPS) - Many parents are scratching their heads as they watch youngsters in the Asia- Pacific region create often-private online worlds, feeling lost over how to be a part of it and oversee their Internet lives.

“Parents of children aged 15 to 17 years old don’t know much about what their kids are doing. The older the children get, the less involved are the parents in their kids’ Internet activities,” says Juthamart Rattanakhom, former head of academic affairs of Thailand’s Assumption Commercial College.

Parents tend to monitor the online activities of young children from six to nine years but “once they get older, parents leave them alone in general,” adds Juthamart, a teacher for the last 27 years.

Thai youngsters can spend up to 12 hours a day in Internet cafes playing online games, far beyond the average of 3.1 hours a day that the Ministry of Culture says young people spend online daily.

This trend of young people, especially teenagers, spending more unsupervised time online – either at home or Internet cafes – is pretty much reflected in other parts of the region, which is home to 764 million Internet users, according to the Internet World Statistics.

In India, two-thirds of those who access the Internet do so from cybercafes, workplaces and areas outside the home, says a 2009 study by marketing research company comScore.


In the Philippines, 74 percent of children aged 10 to 17 have access to the Internet and eight out of 10 online users go to Internet cafes, according to a 2009 study by the Manila-based Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication (AIJC).

A Microsoft Australia study released in March showed that 65 percent of parents let their children surf the Internet “unsupervised and unrestricted at home”. The report says that more than 60 percent of parents are aware of parental control software that sets limits to a child’s usage of the Internet, but they do not really use this.

“It is difficult for parents to look into the Internet habits of their children, especially if the latter access the Internet in Internet cafes,” AIJC President Ramon Tuazon says in an interview.

Cheap Internet fees make this access much easier, especially when youngsters need to shell out only 10 pesos (20 U.S. cents) to play games for an hour.

“I think 90 percent of Bangkok-based kids are into online gaming,” adds Juthamart, saying that boys tend to go for role-playing games like AdventureQuest and Alien Invasion. Internet café fees are just 20 to 25 baht ( 70 to 77 cents) an hour in the Thai capital.

In an email interview, Mumbai-based Smita Deodhar says that while she monitors her son and daughter’s Internet usage regularly, it is not always easy for parents to be aware of their children’s cyberspace activities.

“All this policing is useless. If they (kids) want to do undesirable things online, there are a thousand ways to do it without the parents’ knowledge,” remarks Deodhar.

Tuazon adds that cyberspace is often still unfamiliar terrain for many parents. “Except for younger parents, the older ones are also not techno- savvy,” he explains.

Apart from the issue of spending a lot of time in cyberspace, which often means being cooped up indoors, parents and teachers are also concerned about young people falling prey to child prostitution, paedophilia and other forms of abuse online, such as cyberbullying. Cyberbullying, cases of which have been reported in South Korea, Japan, Singapore and the Philippines, occurs when a child is subjected to harassment, threats and other forms of psychological torment through the Internet or mobile phones.

Thus, analysts say, it is time for schools and families to be aware of how big a role the Internet has become for young people. For them, the virtual world goes far beyond one where they just search for information or exchange e- mails and often defines a significant part of their social identity.

“In Thailand, schools teach computer lessons more as an educational tool. When parents introduce their kids to the computer at home, they too must be aware of their responsibilities,” says Juthamart.

To help parents on guiding children online, Tuazon says the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) is producing a manual on media and information literacy that is due out in mid-2010. This will instruct teachers and parents on how to teach children about responsible Internet use, adds Tuazon, who is a UNESCO consultant.

In the end though, Deodhar says the best way to help children acquire the skills to use the Internet responsibly while having fun is to treat them as adults. She explains: “Give them an idea of the dangers that lurk here, draw their attention to news reports that speak about such examples, make them responsible, sensible kids. Be watchful in a non-suffocating, open way and all will be well.”

Adds Deodhar: “I am for moderate, loving, consensual censorship.”

*The Asia Media Forum (http://www.theasiamediaforum.org) is a space for journalists to share insights on issues related to the media and their profession, as well as stories and opinions on democracy, development and human rights in Asia. It is coordinated by IPS Asia-Pacific.

 
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