Internet Safety for Children
Parents give children phones at a younger age than ever before. Along with the ability to stay in touch with their parents, kids love to play video games and interact with each other through social networking sites, through sharing photos and in chat rooms. Experts debate the use of cell phones by young children, claiming that it places them at greater risk for harm due to predators and cyberbullying. Parents often seek solutions to give their children the best opportunities while protecting them. Currently, parents are the number one users of tracking and other apps that provide parental controls.
Statistics show that despite parents’ best efforts, children are still being targeted online. In 2017, analysts reviewed data from over 500 million emails, social media posts, and text messages. The report stated 57 percent of tweens and 66 percent of teens were involved in cyberbullying. 53 percent of tweens and 72 percent of teens received content containing nudity or messages of a sexual nature; 11 percent of tweens and 18 percent of teens were involved in self-harm or suicidal situations.
Do You Need an App?
Consumer Advocate shows how parental control apps can help parents to regulate their children’s phone use. Apps can track the location of your child, and view online activity. Many phones feature built-in parental controls and systems. Phone apps take it one step further, adding blocks, safe search options, and the ability to trace unknown callers on your iPhone or Android or perform a reverse phone number search to identify who is calling your child’s phone.
Parents may search their children’s phones for inappropriate messages, photos and profiles to no avail. Kids are typically smarter than their parents when it comes to tech and can easily hide those messages. Photos and files can be hidden in the cloud using various platforms such as Google Drive or iCloud. Anyone can own an account. The files can be opened on any device with an Internet connection. Apps use algorithms to dig out the information and are more effective.
Ensuring Internet Safety
Parents can practice cyber safety by blocking adult or harmful content on their children’s phones. Monitored activity can include cyberbullying, signs of depression or low-self-esteem, self-harm, threats of violence, suicidal behavior, and messages from online predators. The apps use specific algorithms to scan and track social media networks, email, video sites, text messages, and more.
Phones Aren’t the Only Problem
Kids use cell phones most often, but parents should be cautious about devices such as tablets, computers, and laptops. If the kids use the Internet at a friend or relative’s house, make sure that the rules are understood by the supervising adult.
Discuss the Issue
Monitoring your child’s Internet activity may cause an issue regarding the child’s privacy. Kids may see it as punishment or as an invasion of privacy. This can cause resentment. Parents should talk to their kids and explain that is it necessary for their safety. The kids may not agree but parents should hold firm. Someday, the children may understand the need for the action and thank you for protecting them from harm.
Everyone makes mistakes. However, children often relate making mistakes to punishment. Therefore, a child may not go to an adult to discuss negative behavior online. If it involves a school friend, it could be seen as being a tattletale or “ratting” the other person out. Additionally, children might think they will be punished and lose access to computers, smartphones or other devices.
Parents should teach children that there are things that should not be shared. This includes any personal information about where the child lives or any information about the family. The child must also understand that once something is on the Internet, it is there forever – “The ‘net does not forget.”
The best way to protect kids online is to talk to them. Don’t be afraid to have tough conversations. One safety website suggests having children teach the parents about technology, including safety. Kids love to be in charge and share what they know. Parents should hold “classes” on a regular basis.
There have been safeguards for kids almost since the Internet was invented. However, those tech savvy kids can get around those blocks with little effort. Before turning your kid loose on the internet, set strict guidelines including the amount of screen time as well as which sites are acceptable and safe.
Internet Safety Tips
- Use safety features on websites. Let’s use YouTube as an example since it’s one of the most popular sites. If you’re using a desktop, scroll down to the bottom of the screen to the “Restricted Mode” setting. This setting will hide videos that contain inappropriate content. For the mobile app, click on the three dots (top right) to get to Settings > General. Scroll down until you see the “Restricted Mode” option.
- Set privacy controls on social media accounts. First, make sure that the children are old enough and mature enough to use social media. Discuss what is appropriate and limit who can see their posts. Discuss which sites require a parent’s permission.
- Use separate accounts for adults and kids.
- Set up separate accounts for your kids on your computers
- Use kid-safe search engines and browsers.
- Limit your child’s screen time.
- Use only safe chat rooms
- Teach your children not to talk to strangers. While great friendships can be made online, there is a great danger that children are being approached by predators. Teach kids to maintain a safe distance. Encourage communication with people they know in real life. If the stranger wants your child to call or text, iPhone app to see who a phone number belongs to and note it just in case.
- Teach your children about “sexting.” The Justice Department has stated that the biggest threat to children is something called “sextortion.” People send graphic messages or pictures which can cause lasting psychological damage.
- Avoid file sharing. Aside from being illegal, sharing files, e.g., music, videos, etc. can be a doorway to getting a virus on your phone or computer.
- Discuss cyberbullying. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine have reported that cyberbullying affects up to 15% percent of children. The percentage is higher for kids who are minorities, disabled, overweight, or LGBTQ.
Online safety is vital for adults and children. Share warning signs with children without scaring them away from Internet use that can further their education. They should be able to learn and have fun while staying safe.