askST: How can parents protect their children on the Internet?

The recent case of a student who became self-radicalised underscored the importance of parents and guardians knowing what their children get up to online.
The recent case of a student who became self-radicalised underscored the importance of parents and guardians knowing what their children get up to online.ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE - Many people were alarmed when news broke late last month that a 16-year-old student had become self-radicalised through the Internet, and was planning to launch a terror attack on two mosques.

Although experts said the Internet should not be wholly blamed for this phenomenon, parents and guardians felt the incident underscored the importance of knowing what their children get up to online, noting that the teenager's parents had not known he was researching radical topics.

The Straits Times has put together some tips for parents to protect their children on the Internet.

Q: How can I monitor what my child is doing on the Internet?

A: There are applications that parents can use to monitor their children's activities online.

For Apple users, there is a built-in parental control function that allows parents to prevent their children from installing or deleting apps on their devices without permission. They can also limit their children's Web access to approved websites, and monitor how much time the child has spent on each app.

An Android equivalent is the free-to-download app called Google Family Link, which also allows users to block and approve downloads from the Google Play store, and enables parents to set time limits on their children's devices and to remotely lock the devices.

In addition, the telcos have their own parental control subscription programmes which may have additional functions.

Singtel Surf School, for example, allows parents to set up a list of blocked contacts on Android phones, through the parental control app Qustodio. The app also monitors what children search for and watch on YouTube.

StarHub's JuniorProtect program allows parents to remotely turn on and off the mobile data on their child's devices at any time.

However Touch Cyber Wellness head Joanne Wong warns that these tools are not "foolproof" as children, especially teenagers, can find many ways to exploit loopholes in such apps.

The apps should be used as a transitional tool for parents to help their children become more discerning and self-disciplined, she said.

"The parent-child relationship may be adversely affected as older children in their adolescence might see these policing measures as too controlling or unjustified," said Ms Wong.

Q: How else can I manage their Internet habits?

A: Ms Wong said parents can discuss with their children and set boundaries on what online content is allowed.

Parents can also encourage their children to ask for permission before using the devices, and have their children adopt the habit of sharing what they get up to online.

Ms Wong added that parents need to be ready to engage their children on topics that may be uncomfortable to talk about, including sexual content and themes such as violence or gore that children might be exposed to online.

They could also create opportunities to reinforce good values and address questionable content through playing online games or watching videos with their children, she said.

"Such interactions can help children grow in their critical thinking and discernment, which can go a long way in enabling children to navigate the digital space more astutely on their own in the future," said Ms Wong.