It’s hard to go a whole day without doing something on the internet. Everything is now available online, from grocery shopping to doctor appointments to even homework assignments. Many individuals of all ages, kids included, take advantage of the benefits of the world wide web every day.
With all these great benefits however, comes its drawbacks and dangers. Online criminal activity grows at a consistent rate as society moves further into the online sphere.
So how do you keep your kids safe while navigating this web? First, it’s through knowing and understanding the threats, and then having preventative discussions alerting your kids to these potential dangers and giving them the tools to avoid them entirely.
Major threats to child online safety
The three most serious threats to kids online include cyberbullying, exposure to inappropriate content and online predators.
- Cyberbullying – As defined by the Cyberbullying Research Center, “Cyberbullying is when someone repeatedly and intentionally harasses, mistreats, or makes fun of another person online or while using cell phones or other electronic devices.” In a 2019 study, about 37 percent of the kids surveyed acknowledged having been bullied online before, with hurtful comments and rumors spread online being the highest reported form.
- Inappropriate content – One of the most common online threats is early exposure to inappropriate content. Whether it be pornographic images or videos, violent content or offensive and hateful language, it’s just too easy to accidentally come across it during a harmless online search. In fact, 62 percent of kids have reported unintentionally viewing sexually explicit content online, and approximately 60 percent have encountered violent conversations or comments.
- Predators – Any adult who seeks out children for abusive or exploitative reasons is considered a predator. Websites with chat functions or anything allowing interaction with strangers is something to be on the alert for, if not avoided entirely. Children can easily be lured into discussions with these individuals if they’re not already on the lookout for suspicious behavior.
Implementing safe habits
In order to avoid dangerous individuals and inappropriate content, it’s good to work with your children to build strong, attentive and responsible habits when using the internet.
- Have open discussions about online safety – Simply hoping that your kids don’t encounter online dangers isn’t enough to protect them. You need to sit down with them and have an open, honest and age-appropriate discussion about just what kind of threats they might encounter online. Warn them against engaging in chat sessions with strangers, guide them in ways to avoid clicking on spyware or malware and assure them that you’ll answer any questions they might have in order to keep them as safe as possible.
- Check for “https” – One easy-to-remember method of checking the security of a website is whether or not the URL contains “https” and not just “http.” For teens shopping online, encourage them to check the website address before entering personal information like credit card numbers.
- Don’t share personal information – Whether talking with someone through direct messaging functions, posting images or updates or any other medium allowing the inclusion of personal information, dissuade your kids from posting anything like home address, school name, date of birth, phone number or email, or even their last name. Such information can be used against them if in the wrong hands.
- Don’t respond to threatening messages – While it might be tempting to give in to threats or continue conversation with an aggressor, remind your kids of the importance of shutting those conversations down. Simply logging off the site and walking away from the device can be an effective method of stopping those conversations. Encourage them to come to you and tell you if they were threatened or bullied in any way.
- Never agree to meet with someone they met online – Sometimes predators will try and encourage children to meet with them. Never, under any circumstances, should your child agree to meeting with a stranger they met online. Talk with your kids about the dangers of people with twisted intentions and ask them to come straight to you if they’re ever asked to meet with a stranger.
- Watch out for free downloads – Free downloads, pop-ups and unexpected attachments or links can be full of malware, spyware and even inappropriate content. Consider installing a pop-up blocker on your children’s devices, as well as inform them of the dangers of clicking on anything they don’t recognize.
Internet safety is important
Just as children (and adults) want to remain safe and secure in the outside world, so, too, is it important to remain safe and secure while online. Simply by talking with your children and alerting them to what’s out there on the internet you can begin to raise a healthy sense of awareness and caution in them. They shouldn’t be terrified of the web by any means, but they should be smart about it. By training them how to safely navigate the internet, you can protect both your children’s eyes, mind and personal information, as well as your own.
For more information on internet safety, as well as other family and individual counseling services contact Mazzitti & Sullivan EAP today at 800-543-5080.