The latest incident involving an Instagram group named, bois locker room, has taken social media and the media by storm. Among the millions of similar groups on social networking sites, this is probably the first one that got exposed. Hundreds of 17-18 year old boys were members of this group, which was being used to share objectionable content and pictures of teenage girls, casually talking about gang-raping them, and passing disrespectful comments.

While I empathize with parents of both the victims and the perpetrators, the incident is a wake up call for all young netizens, parents and educators.

In my previous blog, What I Wish Every Parent Knew About Instagram, I tried to bring to your notice that our children are vulnerable (because they are children) and we need to stop pretending that social media platforms, like Instagram, are safe for them (because they are not).

Unfortunately, parents are often clueless about their children’s online activities. They hardly have any conversations around social media etiquette, clean digital footprints or the do’s & don’ts of the Internet. Very often, the reason is not complacency, but lack of their own awareness.

Most parents are lost when trying to wrap their heads around this extremely dynamic space with millions of websites and thousands of apps. Please keep yourself abreast about the Internet through the Internet! Or read books like Be Safe in Cyberspace,which enlist Internet Safety Rules, in a simple yet effective manner.

Similar to teaching other life skills to children, responsible and safe digital citizenship needs to be taught, with specific ground rules and open communication between generations.

Talk to your children

It sounds simple and obvious, but this is the most important of all weapons in the battle to keep your children safe online. Encourage them to talk to you and make sure they are aware of the risks of giving out too much personal information, online.You could Know Everything That Your Child Does Online using parental software controls. However, no technical solution can ever substitute to talking to your children, having an open discussion and being aware of what they are doing online.

There’s No Delete Button

“It’s cool!! I can just delete it if it’s a problem, and who reads yesterday’s papers any way “- this something that you might hear from teens all the time. They assure you that those stories on Instagram, the awkward photo from last night’s party, the angry tweet or Whatsapp message – are all impermanent, so it’s no big deal. Unfortunately, they’re all wrong.

In today’s digital world, the Internet and its social networking platforms are overriding our natural ability to forget; online posts ensure that the past is ever present, ready to be recalled at the click of a button!

Unlike a chalkboard – where you can write and erase at will- the Internet has no ‘delete’ button. Once something is out there online, it will more or less be there forever. It’s impossible to take it back. Well, the challenge is that young people don’t even look at this aspect of permanence of posts and end up making mistakes publicly and permanently.

Pause Before Posting

Besides causing major embarrassment and ruining friendships or relationships, online lapses in judgment can cost young people their careers or jobs.

It’s important for children to understand the implications of their online actions. They should be aware that creating fake accounts, identity theft, sharing obscene material, posting private images without consent of another are all punishable by law, under the IT Act.

One has to rely on a lot of common sense and a little bit of restraint, before clicking on share, or uploading that picture or commenting on something which may have flared one’s temper at that moment. So, if they find it potentially humiliating/harmful, they should not put it out there.

In today’s digital world, Cyber Safety awareness is essential, but so many parents simply wake up only when something bad happens.

The key thing is to teach kids that if they wouldn’t be comfortable saying or doing a particular thing face-to-face, they should not indulge in such behaviour in cyberspace too.

As parents and teachers, it is our responsibility to create awareness in young minds that their online behavior is a reflection of who they are in the real world.