In the never-ending battle to shield children from cyber bullies, Twitter trolls and online villains, mums and dads are fighting back.
As technology continues to advance to ever-higher levels, parents around the world are on a mission: to protect their children.
From upgrading security systems to taking matters into their own hands by imposing restrictions, parents and guardians must protect the interests of their little ones from the darker corners of the internet.
Tech giant Apple and the FBI, America’s domestic intelligence agency, are continually monitoring the effects of technology on our children. Both are creating and updating a range of measures to help parents.
According to techies who follow such trends, it would seem that people have started protecting their children’s privacy by using encrypted communication.
Encryption is where data is rendered difficult to read by an unauthorised party, which is basically being an undercover “middle man”. The argument against encryption is that it allows those who would cause harm to your children to “go dark”.
While that is true, encryption is also a powerful tool that can help protect your children from those same predators; as well as cyber bullies and others who want to harm them. In short, encryption is not just for privacy and security but also for personal safety and peace of mind.
Some parents in Muscat are obviously troubled about the issue, and two that we quizzed are keen to shield their children from any nefarious influences.
A mother of twin boys, Salma, who did not want her surname published, said: “My sons are nine and there’s no denying they are more tech-savvy than I am or will ever be.
“But I make sure that I use everything I can to take special care of their safety online. I have installed an app called SecureTeen Parental Control on their devices. It helps me locate them, as well as monitor their online activities and their downloads.
“However, as they grow, they’re going to want to have their own privacy. But for now, I think I will keep this app installed on their phones.
“Of course, many ask me why I have bought smartphones for my children. As a matter of fact, I bought them phones when there was news of a child who had gone missing from one of the Indian schools in Darsait back in 2013.
“Since then, I have felt that they have been safe. But like most things, there are two sides to this story. My kids spend most of their evenings on their phones, and both of them have WhatsApp.”
Her parental control application is not effective in controlling the WhatsApp messenger service since it uses end-to-end encryption in its messages.
However, Salma says: “This is where being a responsible parent comes into play. I constantly make sure my children are aware that they mustn’t respond to anyone anonymous, and that there are devils out there who are waiting to take away their lives.”
Parents are also concerned about the effects of new-age technology and peer-to-peer gaming that has taken over the gaming sphere.
Children are now connected via the internet to various servers in which age isn’t a restriction, thus putting them at risk.
Buthaina al Zadjali, the mother of a seven-year-old, says: “The major challenge is that we must remind ourselves that we are raising children in the digital era and they are exposed to so much more than we ever were.
“Therefore, I believe it is important to help them understand the benefits and negative effects that electronic devices and game consoles have on them.
“During the academic year, we have a no-electronic device or tablet rule. Naturally, the rule is debated. Also, I protect my child by creating my own password as he can’t access his Xbox without it or his name would be slightly altered, as most of the games made for children require online connectivity.”
Another parent (who declined to be named) suggested that technological advancements can be a new way to educate their children on safety.
Schools in Muscat, such as the International School of Choueifat, are slowly changing into a complete e-book, smart board system. There, students use a Samsung tablet daily and are tested on electronic computers.
“If schools are teaching our children to be technologically proactive, then as parents we should follow the same path. I will protect my child during their earlier years but I will make sure that the communication between the school and parents enforces protection and standards.”
Recently, Apple and Google have launched apps such as The Gabriel, an internet security software program. It is aimed at protecting children’s communication such as talk, email, chat and the sharing of photographs, for example. It is aimed at eliminating opportunities for hackers and is therefore another step towards protecting our children.
* NewsUSA (additional reporting by Fatin al Zadjali and Alvin Thomas)