Youth Psychologist Najla Nagib Offers Advice
The term ‘spyware’ brings about images of an elusive computer programmer hacking into a criminal’s bank account to feed information to Jack Bauer, a fictional protagonist of the American television show 24. The reality, on the other hand, involves concerned mothers and fathers keeping tabs on their children.
The Internet may have started as a shining beacon of communication, education and entertainment; however, its reach has also been taken advantage of by cyber bullies and sexual predators.
The question remains: how do we get the benefits of the World Wide Web without attracting its unfavorable side? More importantly, how do we keep track of our little ones while continuing to respect their privacy? Cairo East Magazine sits down with psychologist and youth expert, Najla Nagib, to discuss how to strike the right balance.
CEM: What apps are available to help parents monitor their children’s phone and social media use?
NN: There are hundreds of apps available just a click away – all you need is to buy or download them from the app store on your phone.
Up to what age should parents monitor their child’s phone and social media?
I don’t think parents should monitor their child’s phone after they are 16 years old. Before that, the objective is taking security measures to ensure that no one is dragging them into any type of danger while they are still young and vulnerable.
What are the 4 most important things to know about kids and social media?
Firstly, parents need to know who they’re in contact with. Second, parents should keep track of what their children’s interests are online – whether it’s groups they’re joining or pages they Google. In addition, the number of hours they use the Internet is vital, as is staying on top of the different applications available to young people from Facebook to Instagram and Tumblr.
What is the social media etiquette that parents should acquaint their children with?
Social media etiquette would be not to navigate sites with explicit sexual content as well as setting times and places where they are permitted to use social media.
What are the dangers posed to children who have early access to social media?
A child can open a social media account, or purchase a mobile line by him/herself from the age of 16. The dangers to children are real and can be of serious consequence – from sexting to drugs, child trafficking and involvement with terrorist organizations; social media is very much a hub for predators of all kinds.
Can access to social media be controlled? How?
It is difficult to answer this question, as there is a difference between surveillance and protection.Unfortunately it is difficult to control social media as a whole, but setting home and school rules are more convincing than spying. Being more open to talk and communicate
with your child is an essential step, as is educating children about the dangers of social media the way we warned them about “stranger danger” in real life.
Should a child be made aware that he or she will be monitored?
Well, this is controversial as it can cause parent-child relation problems even if the child is not doing something wrong. Telling the child that he or she will be monitored means that the child will look for ways to block his parents and keep them away. They are very good with technology and more advanced than their parents and will always find ways to beat them at that game.
What are things to look out for in messages your child receives?
This is difficult to answer since the language that kids are using today is difficult to understand by a lot of parents. Instead, we should look at who is contacting them rather than what is being communicated. For example, it is not normal for an older unfamiliar person to contact a child continuously.
What steps can be taken to allow parents more supervision of computer usage?
Putting computers in shared areas and not allowing children to use the Internet after specific hours – especially at night. As a general rule, parents should limit hours of Internet use simply by unplugging the router. In addition, schools should not allow cellular phones at all during the school day.
Should a child have a monthly mobile bill, or should they have a pay-as-you-go plan to limit usage of the mobile line?
They should have a pay-as-you-go when they are young, maybe younger than 15, because their parents accompany them most of the time. When they are on their own, going to lessons or training or going out alone with friends they have to have a monthly one. One of the biggest advantages of children having mobiles is being able to reach their parents during any emergency.
How does snooping affect the relationship between parent and child?
Very negatively and I would not recommend that by any means. I wouldn’t demand that a child hands over their phone to their parents to check; however, I would expect parents to be their Facebook friends, for children to leave laptops downstairs at bedtime and for parents to have ongoing conversations with them about potential dangers.
Maintaining communication is crucial. If you are caught spying on your child, you risk creating a situation in which the child keeps secrets, is angry with you and rebels by leading a separate online life.
Teenagers have a natural desire for privacy, which doesn’t necessarily equate with illicit behavior – and yet there are dangers. Parents can watch over them briefly but without appearing heavy-handed. If you have a good relationship with your children, you have nothing to worry about. The vast majority of kids don’t come to any harm; if you think you have the sort of troubled child who is vulnerable, then what are they doing owning a piece of equipment that can lead them into difficulties?
How have smart phones and social media affected the coming-of-age of children nowadays?
Of course, after talking with youngsters, I realize that nowadays everything is different and difficult – they know everything and have explored everything. This is impressive but I am worried that they don’t get the chance to be children, with real toys and face-to-face communication with others – an essential part of being human. Parenting was never an easy task to begin with and as the digital age continues to develop, it can only get more complicated.
With children turning to the Internet for education and entertainment, it’s inevitable that they’ll come across its bad side. The only hope that families have at managing the virtual Internet world is through face-to-face communication between parent and child.
Najla Nagib is a Cairo-based counseling psychologist whose work includes Psychology and Sociology teaching for O-level and A-level IGCSE students.
Ph.D., Environmental Psychology and MA Counseling Psychology American University in Cairo.
BA Social Sciences (Political Science, Psychology and Sociology), American University in Cairo.