The safety of your children is your number one priority. As a parent, you try to ensure that your child is in a safe and nurturing environment. Whether it be at school, recreational activities, or a friend’s house; you will try to identify any potential threats to your child and prepare them as best you can. Oftentimes, it is easy to forget that some threats to your child are present even when they are at home. The internet is a valuable resource for entertainment and information but it can also be a dangerous haven for predators and inappropriate content putting your child at risk.
It is estimated that up to 40 percent of children using the internet have interacted with a stranger in an online forum. That is a shocking and sobering realization that children are exposed to potential threats on an almost daily basis through their online interactions whether it is through video games or social media channels. As a parent, you must prepare your child for the potential challenges and threats they may encounter in their daily lives. Internet safety is a critical topic worthy of open discussion with your child to keep them as safe as possible while they spend time online.
Potential Dangers Lurking Online
Internet use inherently will open up the gates for a number of potential harmful attacks to its users. As adults, we face a constant threat of malware attacks, identity theft, scams, and fraud through our day-to-day internet transactions. A child is not only vulnerable to these same attacks but also exposed to a number of other threats specifically aimed at violating their safety and innocence.
The internet is a gateway and grooming tool used by many predators and human traffickers to target children and teens in an anonymous capacity. One of the main reasons predators are attracted to the internet is the ability to scour the web with little to no consequences for their actions. Through various tools, predators are able to maintain anonymous personas and hold private conversations with children through social media and video game channels virtually hidden to law enforcement and in many cases parents.
Of the 40% of children that admitted to speaking to a stranger on the internet, up to 50% of those children gave identifying information to the potential threat including their phone numbers, while another 15% attempted to meet with the stranger. Once a predator makes contact with a child online they can be quite persistent and groom your child over time to open up the possibility of in-person contact, posing a much more serious threat to the physical safety of your child.
Most video games with online capabilities and web-based games offer various chat options to its users. Predators often use this function to pose as younger children or teens to gain access to your child. In addition to the gaming world predators also lurk through various social media channels. Some of these social media applications tout anonymity and are geared towards encouraging predatory behaviors. Some applications go as far as masking its identity on mobile phones appear to parents as less threatening tools like calculators. In 2019, the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Department created a quick reference for parents to identify the 15 most dangerous applications for children.
Applications Identified as a Threat to Children’s Online Safety include:
While predators are often at the top of the list of risks to the online safety of your child, another pervasive and prevalent online danger is cyberbullying. It is estimated that 37% of children between the ages of 12 -17 have been bullied in some form online. With growing access to mobile phones and ease of access to internet connections, these numbers continue to rise and grow. Cyberbullying is a threat to the mental health of children and teens and in some extreme cases can lead to self-harm and suicide.
Cyberbullying can occur in various ways and through a number of different forums. Some examples of cyberbullying include:
- Sending attacks or threats through personal messaging through online applications, social media, or text messages.
- Posting derogatory remarks or messages on open social media forums such as Instagram or Facebook
- Sharing or posting embarrassing photographs of individuals without their permission
- The spreading of rumors or false information about an individual
- Making harmful or threatening comments to an individual’s social media page and posts
Internet pornography is a constant threat to children, teens, and even adults through the use of social media channels and messaging. Oftentimes, parents are unaware of the ease with which predators will send pornographic materials to children through online platforms. Many times parents believe if their child is not looking for this harmful content then they will not be exposed to it. However, this could not be farther from the truth. A seemingly “Hey, how are you” or “Hey you’re cute” through a direct message on social media or chat is often followed by unsolicited nude photographs of the predator or pornographic material. While it is important to maintain parental restrictions blocking inappropriate websites on your child’s devices; it is also imperative that you take proactive steps with your child to prevent accessing unwanted and unsolicited interactions.
How to Protect Your Child from Internet Dangers
The internet provides a wealth of information and in most cases is necessary to our children’s day-to-day lives. It provides entertainment, communication with friends and family, and valuable information needed for education and learning. There are ways to navigate this vast resource safely with the right parental guidance and teachings to ensure that your children are not only aware of the threats present online but how to combat these threats when they encounter them.
Focused and Limited Internet Use
Restricting all internet use especially in teens and older children is often unrealistic and in most cases futile. While you may be able to restrict the internet at home there is no way for a parent to be able to police all of their children’s actions while at school or with friends. Instead, more effort should be made to teach children to use the internet safely and with a purpose. Mindless browsing online or boredom can often lead children down a path to trouble. Allow for a designated time for internet use that is purposeful and productive. Take the time to discuss with your child why they need the internet and set parameters for that use. Whether it be to play a game, chat with friends, or watch a video ensure you are aware of what they are doing and provide them limits and guidance for those interactions.
Parental Supervision and Guidance
It may be difficult for parents to supervise everything their children do online, but they can keep a watchful eye. Discuss with your children what are appropriate and allowable behaviors online and keep an open dialogue to allow them to come to you with any concerns or problems. Explain to them candidly the threats the internet poses and how they can protect themselves.
Teach Your Children Online Self-Defense
There are a number of ways you can help your child stay as safe as possible while the venture online:
- Ensure your parental limits and virus software are up to date on all devices used by your child
- Set rules and time limits for their internet use through their computers, tablets, and mobile phones
- Discuss the importance of their anonymity and protecting their personal information and photographs
- Encourage them to come to you when any red flags appear, they are contacted by a stranger, or they are uncomfortable in any way
- Stress the need to never interact with strangers or open direct messages from strangers either through text, social media, or messaging applications
- If they are targeted with hateful or harmful messages give them the confidence to come to you immediately rather than attempt to deal with the situation alone
- For younger children take the time to bookmark websites and stay near them during their internet use
- Restrict internet use behind closed doors and encourage your children to use their devices in an open setting visible to you. Glance over from time to time and ensure they are using the internet responsibly
The Internet Can Be Used Responsibly and Safely
Being aware of the threats the internet poses to your children can help you make certain your children use the internet in a responsible and educated manner. Keep an open and honest dialogue with your children about the real threats lurking online and encourage them to keep you informed of their behaviors and interactions through various internet platforms. The younger your children are the easier it is to restrict and limit their use of the internet. As they become older it can become more difficult and in some cases a necessary resource for their education and development. Taking the time and making the effort to teach your children about internet safety will help them navigate the dangerous waters online and be prepared for potential threats against them.