The fact remains that the internet sphere grew much faster than the controls could, leaving kids vulnerable. You will go to great lengths to protect your children, and this is just one more possible threat to add to your list.
Younger and younger internet users
Recent studies reveal that children are using the internet from younger and younger ages, some as young as days old, especially with attractive and stimulating mediums like touch-sensitive tablets. But parents and children do not always understand the dangers hiding below the surface.
The EU Kids Online project in Ireland spent several years investigating nine- to 16-year-old’s interaction with the internet, trying to determine the pros and cons of kids’ internet usage.
According to Brian O’Neill from EU Kids Online, this meant examining the experiences of children far younger than they normally would. They began their work in 2006. “There is now a critical need for information about the internet-related behaviours of zero- to eight-year-olds. EU Kids Online’s research shows that children are now going online at a younger and younger age, and that children’s lack of technical, critical and social skills may pose a greater risk.” There is expected to be a sharp increase in the usage of internet from children between the ages of three and 11.
Children able to type words on smartphones and tablets and other devices, could easily gain access to the most explicit and vulgar photographs and reading material, amongst other things, by simply inserting key words into a search engine; this material isn’t subject to any controls and is readily available to all if you do not have any parental guidance features on your web service. Even seemingly innocent key words could lead to exposure to offensive material.
Parents should also realise that children with access to social media platforms can connect with people of any age right across the world, these including possible sexual offenders.
Parents’ access to internet also plays a role
Apart from the access that kids have to harmful material, certain actions of parents might also put their children at risk, like posting pictures of their children on public domain using social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, PinInterest, etc. This means if your privacy settings and ‘friends’ or ‘connections’ aren’t monitored carefully, you might be adding to risks related to child safety and privacy.
EU Kids Online’s greatest concern is also parents’ interaction with the internet. In Science Daily, O’Neill comments, “Specifically engagement with online service providers to review their user consent policies and responsibilities to ‘take-down’ information in a wide range of circumstances. This includes confidential, risky and erroneous information inadvertently posted by minors – as well as parental postings.”
So how do I keep my child safe?
Most certainly the greatest tool to safeguard our children is educating them and making parents and members of the community aware of the dangers related to children and parents’ internet usage.
At home, you can do the following (tips from the National Crime Prevention Council):
- Choose a commercial online service that offers parental control features.
- Teach your children never to give their address, telephone number, school name, passwords, or any personal information to anyone.
- Teach your children that they should never ever meet face to face with any online ‘friend’. If you’ve assessed the situation and deem it to be safe, arrange a meeting in a public place with adults from both children being present.
- Teach your children not to respond to any suspicious messages, such as messages with bad words, scary or weird content.
- Teach your children never ever to enter an environment that charges fees, without getting your permission first.