A boy using a smartphone Image Credit: Agency

Dubai: “Would you leave your child alone with a thousand strangers in a room?” asks Neal Oates. Without doubt all parents would answer that question with a big ‘No.’

So why, he wonders, parents are not mindful about leaving their children to engage with millions of strangers online.

Oates, who is the assistant headmaster, Dubai British School, is a campaigner for a more regulated access of internet by students, and calls on parents not to allow children below 13 years of age to use mobile phones.

Speaking to Gulf News on the sidelines of a conference marking 30 years of internet, Oates along with other panellists at Cisco Connect, called for greater accountability of tech platforms in maintaining privacy and controlling fake news.

“We have got a responsibility as a society to stop the proliferation of invalidated information and students are among those who get most affected by fake news because they are not in a position to judge what is right and what is wrong. That is why I believe children below the age of 13 shouldn’t be given mobile phones,” says Oates.

Agreeing with Oates, Tamara Clarke author of children’s book on safe surfing and a tech blogger, called for striking a balance between online and offline activities for children, under the watchful eyes of parents.

“Screen time is always the issue, finding the right balance between online and offline activities of children is the key to their balanced growth. Parents have to be very serious about the dangers that might come with having access to the internet. So before they deal with it, clear guidelines should be established and children should know what the rules of engagement are,” said Clarke.

She added that children until they in their teens should not be allowed to use internet enable devices privately.

“I believe privacy is not an issue with children. The devices should be kept in the common area of the house and parents should be aware of what the children are up to,” she said.

Urging parents and teachers to educate children on the rules of engagement on the internet, the panel that represented various stakeholders including regulators, academics and a tech blogger, also called on tech platforms to fulfil their responsibility in keeping the web safe and clean.