Dubai Police’s arrest of a 25-year-old male who was luring children to share their pictures through an in-game chatroom is a stark reminder of the digital dangers that are now a pervasive reality for the young.
In the litany of complaints about children who are the targets for exploitation, social, emotional or sexual, what reveals itself as a repetitive lapse is the ignorance of parents regarding their children’s digital dallying, whether as stalker or prey.
Both are critical issues to be addressed and both are nearly wholly the result of a lack of parental supervision and timely intervention.
The fact that a 25-year-old can spend hours in his room, honing his predatory skills in the name of studies as his parents remain oblivious to his malintent, is a wake-up call to parents to re-examine their assumptions of their children’s behaviour.
While the alacrity of the girl in this case who alerted her mother to the predator is redemptive, not all children are aware of the trap that awaits them.
Whether it is gaming, being on social media or surfing the web, online perils for children are platform-agnostic and this is perhaps the biggest challenge that modern parenting faces: the need to stay in step with technology in order to be better able to protect their children from cyber dangers. From giant technology firms to individuals, children are easy targets to exploit.
Last week, Google agreed to pay a $170 million (Dh624 million) fine to settle allegations that it broke federal law by collecting personal information about children on YouTube to serve targeted ads.
A popular children’s channel is under scrutiny for blurring the lines between content and advertising. And emerging studies say the trend of children logging on to the web without parental supervision is on the increase.
These are extremely serious issues and their existence is validated by the culture of insufficient parental attentiveness to, and supervision of, children’s online activities.
Yes, governments and regulatory authorities must enact strong laws and implement effective punitive measures for violators — the UAE has stringent laws to uphold child safety — but what needs to come first is the pre-emptive mechanism of parental awareness.
Indeed, it’s double-edged challenge parents face — making sure that their child does not turn into an online stalker or the prey. But what’s the option?
The fight to reclaim children’s safety must begin at home.