The proliferation of social media, online gaming, online forums and cell phone usage have given today’s children technological access never dreamed of just a generation ago. Children now have access to a staggering amount of online content, people and information. With these advances, parents now have even more challenges when it comes to keeping their children safe and happy. They want them safe from predators and happy in the sense that they are free from online bullying. Both of these concerns are foremost in the minds of parents as their kids create Facebook pages, play online games, and text incessantly.
Here is a rundown of some of the top threats to your children’s well-being. In a constantly connected world, knowing where the danger lies is the first step in prevention and safety.
According to enough.org, there are currently over 600,000 Registered Sex Offenders in the US and more than four percent of all children, while online, will be exposed to some form of suggestive solicitation from an adult. Naïve or rebellious children could fall prey to these online predators.
The media has covered some high-profile cases of teen suicide and online bullying in the last couple of years. According to some statistics from the US Department of Health and Human Services, nearly 52% of students report being cyber bullied at some time, while 25% report repeated bullying via their cell phones or social media profiles (statisticbrain.com).
Pornography and inappropriate content is everywhere on the internet. According to Alexa.com, four of the top twenty sites with the highest web traffic are pornographic in nature. When you consider what often comes up in a search engine when entering a seemingly innocuous search, or the amount of inappropriate spam emails you receive, it’s not hard to see why this is such an issue with keeping kids insulated from inappropriate content.
Narcissism and Compulsion
Children, and especially teens, are hyper-aware of social status and image. This mindset can lead to unhealthy amounts of time on such social media sites as Twitter or Facebook. Kids get caught up in trying to be constantly aware, connected and interacting online in the hopes that they will gain acceptance or be more popular.
Further data from the US Department of Health states that only 52% of teens exposed to bullying or inappropriate solicitation, report the incidents to their parents. There are no numbers on exposure to inappropriate content but it is probably a safe bet that a lot of those incidents go unreported as well.
All of these threats are very real and, considering the amount of time children spend online, could present themselves on a daily basis. Here are some tips to help keep your kids safe, while bridging the gap between parental monitoring and proper education for your children.
• Kids must “friend” their parents on Facebook and allow them to be “followed” on Twitter. As teens get older, parents are certain to receive pushback but this is a surefire way to see what your kids are posting and what is being said about them. It is a fine line between monitoring and interference, so caution is advised.
• Do not let kids create their own personal email addresses until they reach a more mature, responsible age. Any account being created online, should be linked to the parents email. This will not only let you monitor what sites your children are registering for but will usually require that you authorize usage and provide you with time to either discuss any concerns with your children or deny the request.
• Make sure that your kids are educated on what’s appropriate to post online and that they never provide contact information or post inappropriate or suggestive pictures of themselves. In today’s world of social media, kids can be their own worst enemy. They shouldn’t post anything online that they wouldn’t want on a billboard, as this is essentially what online posts are. And removing or controlling content on the internet once it’s out there, is not a simple matter.
• Young adults tend to want to add as many other peers as possible to their social media circles. But the reality is that many of these “friends” are not vested in your child’s best interest and oftentimes become a source for ridicule or cyber bullying. Make sure your kids only accept requests from friends they know and trust.
• Strict rules and guidelines need to be set forth and agreed upon prior to allowing kids to go online. These rules and guidelines should also be revisited often as your children’s online experience grows. You should set limits on what’s acceptable, limit the amount of time spent online and make them understand what you will and will not accept in terms of behavior.
• Children are by nature naïve, curious and trusting. This is dangerous. So monitor your children’s activities. Review their browsing history through the browser tools. You can also purchase programs that will enhance your monitoring capabilities.
• Set your parental controls on your computer. Every operating system and browser has a set of parental controls. You should be certain to set the appropriate limits or settings for each. You can also adjust the settings on Google and the other search engines to be strict, ensuring that only appropriate content is returned regardless of the search.
Educating yourselves and your children is ultimately the most important step you can take. Sit down with your kids and set ground rules. Revisit those ground rules every time your kids get a new device, create a social media account, or register for an online gaming. Parents have the unenviable task of walking the fine line between building trust and keeping kids safe. Applying a combination of education, guidance and monitoring should help.