Chapter Fifteen: Introduction to Online Safety and the Dangers of the Internet

With the increasing prevalence and use of computers and mobile devices equipped with Internet access, teaching our children to stay safe online is becoming more and more important.

Statistics about Children Online Safety

Online safety extends its boundaries beyond pornography and sexual predators these days; there has been a sharp increase in the amount and extent of cyber bullying amongst pre-teen and teenage children. In addition, simply monitoring your child’s computer may not be enough – most cell phones, laptops, and gaming devices support Internet access and can be tools that your children use to communicate with sexual predators and/or cyber bullies.

Statistics show that "93% of teens (12-17) go online," and "73% of teens (12-17) have cell phones." With children’s increasing use of the Internet, it is becoming easier for them to access information, but to produce online content as well. In social media networking sites, with just a click of a button, anyone can post personal information or connect to strangers online. "On average…teens (12-17) send and receive 1,500 text messages a month," an average of at least 50 text messages a day. In addition to texts, kids post to social networking sites, blogs, and online forums all the time. "73% of teens have profiles on social networking sites" and of those 73%, "47% [actively] upload photos…and videos."

However, people still need to the remember the number and percentage of people who don’t necessarily actively upload photos or videos, but are still using social media sites by reading what others posted. A majority of these types of sharing platforms contribute to cyber bullying. "1 in 3 teens (12-17) have experienced online harassment", and a large majority of these teens are girls. Part of this is due to teens sharing too much information without knowing the consequences of their actions. That is why it’s important to inform your child of the consequences of their risky behavior to try to thwart them away from it before it actually starts happening and it’s too late.

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Dangerous Websites

More recently, children have been engaging themselves in virtual realities over the Internet, creating usernames and identities to play and interact with other "children" who have similar interests as them. Websites like these can be especially harmful to your children because these sites can be breeding grounds for predators that love to hide behind usernames and pretend to be young children. In these situations, it is important to check which sites your child is using and check up on who they talk to. Always make sure they know they are only allowed to browse sites that you approve together, and if they ever want to log on to a new site, they must always ask you first. Or, many parents install parental blockers on the shared computer to block the possibility of going on prohibited sites at all. In regard to usernames, talk to your child about creating usernames that do not give away too much information, such as their name, last name, their birth year, their city, or their state. Some usernames can be extremely suggestive relating to sex, drugs, or personal cliques or biases; encourage your children to create screen names that suggest hobbies and interests instead.

Getting to know who your child talks to online and who their friends are is also important for their safety. Find out the names and interests of the people they are talking to online. See if they can tell you this information, to demonstrate whether they even know who they are talking to at all. Take an interest in their activities so you can be more alert and active in the situation if you suspect something is wrong with the people your child is talking to. Try to find out why your child is talking to them and about what, so that you can catch something suspicious.

Dangers of Social Media for Kids

Try to find out if your child has an unusual amount of friends; some children accept friends to be more "popular" and talk to random people to make themselves feel better, but much of the time strangers can be predators looking to catch a vulnerable child. Tell your children that social networking and these websites should not be used as a popularity contest, and that the people they are talking to, even though they seem nice, could in reality not be good people at all. Telling them the dangers of kidnapping, rape, and even death if they continue talking to these strangers is usually a good measure to get them to stop.

Keep in mind the privacy settings for all the social media websites your child uses. There are settings to change the look of your child’s website, and how much information they display. Monitoring their profiles and what they post and who they talk to is extremely important. Some websites for younger children actually block the use of certain words on the site and in chat, but as your children get older, they will grow tired of these sites and move to more networking sites that do not have the same blocking settings. Talk to your kids about what is appropriate and what is not appropriate to post or say on the Internet. Posting sensitive information can cause them and their families to get kidnapped, preyed on, or even arrested.

It is also important to teach them the importance of not sharing passwords. A good deterrent for this would be to not write any passwords down near the computer, because if the child sees a word labeled with "username and password" and someone is asking them, they can easily give it away to anyone, including a predator or identity thief. Most children do not know that passwords are sensitive private information, so they will freely share it with anyone who asks. Educate them how nobody, except you, can know any of their passwords. Tell them to never give it out to anyone, even if they know them and ask nicely. They have to always ask you before they give any information to anyone.

Cyber bullying

Cyber bullying has been an issue gaining much more attention these days, all for the wrong reasons. Make sure to frequently remind your child that you love and support them no matter what, as some children and teens commit suicide as a result of being bullied and not feeling supported enough by their family and friends. Always tell your children to not post too much information for the reasons mentioned before, as well as how to deter bullies. Posting a lot of information about themselves can give bullies something to work with to make fun of things they know your child likes because of their posts. Monitor who your child talks to and for how long, as bullies tend to talk to kids for long periods of time, over a span of weeks. Inform your children about the consequences of continuing a relationship with the bully, and tell them to inform you the second they sense a feeling of shame or guilt because of the bully. Be open with them, and tell them it is okay, and actually encouraged, for them to talk to you about issues in their life. Keeping an open dialogue with your children can help save their life!