With the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA) raising concern about its members being the target of nude images and other inappropriate content shared by their students, digital experts are urging parents to assist their children to become better digital citizens.
“With many parents now working from home it is a great opportunity for them to talk to their children about the responsibilities they have when using the internet, especially now when many are engaging in distance learning,” said Dwayne Brown, senior manager, cybersecurity at The Jamaica National Group. “Therefore, parents will need to become media literate, so that they can pass on that information to their children.”
He noted that responsible digital citizenship means having the online social skills to take part in online community life in an ethical and respectful way.
“A big part of this is that online users must behave lawfully,” Mr Brown said.
For example, there is the Cybercrimes Act, which addresses the transmission of data, via a computer, that is threatening, menacing, or obscene with the intention to harass, cause harm or the apprehension of harm, to any person or property.
He said parents must, therefore, help their children to understand that their behaviour online can impact their lives in the real world.
Don Dobson, senior director, communications and public education, at the Broadcasting Commission added that online actions have offline consequences.
He noted that it’s important that parents recognise that with the privilege of using digital media comes great responsibility and this core message must be passed on to their children. “Because as young as they are, they can inform, entertain and educate, which are roles we associate with traditional media. And at the same time, they can also cause harm and distress if they use the devices and the resources in a malicious way,” he said.
Mr Dobson noted that freedom of expression does not mean freedom from consequences.
“We would have seen in the past few years a couple individuals, who were found guilty of malicious communication under the Cybercrimes Act, because they engaged in revenge porn. And in one instance, one of the perpetrators was sentenced to two years in prison and fined one million dollars,” Mr Dobson informed.
He further pointed out that there is also the Child Pornography Prevention Act, under which it is an offence to produce, possess or distribute child pornography.
“Teenagers must be made aware of these laws, as it may very well be possible that a 16-year-old boy receives a nude picture or video from his girlfriend or a female his age and when he saves it on his phone that might be considered possession of child pornography. And for whatever reason, if he were to share it with a friend, maybe that could be construed to be distribution of child pornography,” he reasoned.
Mr Dobson noted that this is why young people and their parents must familiarise themselves with the legislation. “Because an innocent form of ‘sexting’ between two teenagers could be quite costly if it’s considered an offence under the law.”
He, therefore, advised parents to start the conversation with their children, especially now that they are at home and are engaged in increased online activity.
“I also encourage our parents to make use of the online resources that are available and that are there to help them. They can use these online resources to learn at their own pace and familiarise themselves with the issues,” Mr Dobson said.
The Broadcasting Commission has collaborated with the United Kingdom-based organisation, Get Safe Online, through which they have created the local resource www.getsafeonline.org.jm.
“This website provides information that people can use to keep themselves, their families and devices safe,” Mr Dobson said.
“When you go on that website there’s a section called Safeguarding Children and it gives you information on the dangers that children may face online, including cyber bullying, trolling, sexting, online grooming and identity theft.”
Mr Dobson informed that the site also provides information on how parents can set privacy and security settings on their children’s devices and apps.
There are also parental controls and apps that can be used to monitor and manage a child’s online activity.
“The resources are out there, so it’s really for the parent to take that dive and to not become daunted. They don’t have to be tech savvy or an expert on the internet. If possible, they can recruit the assistance of a digital mentor, a younger person at church or someone at work, who is more au fait with the technology.”
Mr Brown further provided several tips for parents to help their children to be safe and responsible online:
Be respectful – and expect respect
Encourage your child to treat online friends with as much respect as those they meet face to face. Part of this is not creating or forwarding offensive or humiliating emails, photos or text messages about someone else.
Protect your reputation
Make sure your child understands the consequences of posting photos and videos, and uploading other personal content. Once this content is online, it’s very hard to get rid of and can become part of your child’s permanent online reputation.
Protect your privacy
Share only as much personal information as necessary – for example, it’s not compulsory to enter your year of birth, mobile number, email address or city on all online forms.
Keep privacy settings up to date on social media sites, so your child’s profile isn’t publicly available. Keep passwords private.
Not everyone online is who they say they are. It’s important for your child to be careful about what they share with people they don’t know.
Your child should also be careful about clicking pop-ups on websites. Some pop-ups that seem safe can lead to porn sites or ask for personal or financial information.