Nowadays, we all spend a huge amount of our lives at a computer, don’t we? Whether it’s for work or leisure, the sheer amount of time we’re looking at a screen is immense. Laptops, PCs, smartphones, tablets… People spend just as much time online as they do offline. Perhaps even more. And, mostly, there’s little wrong with it. Provided we’re smart and careful, the internet can be a fantastic tool for finding out things, communicating and having fun. But there’s a dark side to the online world too.
And while, for most of us, we’re aware of some of the dangers and issues surrounding the internet – often children are blissfully unaware of any of them. That’s why it’s vitally important that as parents and guardians, we do everything in our power to protect and safeguard young people. If you have young kids, you’ll no doubt keep an eye on their computer usage and limit their time online. But what exactly is it that you need to protect them from…?
Well, to fully equip you with all the knowledge you need about the risks of giving your children unfettered access to the internet, we’ve drawn up a comprehensive guide to the things to watch out for. Find out the hazards and how to combat them with this – the ultimate guide to how to keep your child safe online.
Read it. Bookmark it. Share it. This might just be one of the most important things you’ll ever read…
Grooming By Predators On Social Media
Youngsters, like us, are attracted to the lure of social media. As a way of keeping in touch with schoolmates and following interests, social networks like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are irresistible. And we wouldn’t advocate a blanket ban on such sites. They can be invaluable tools for assisting in learning new things about the world, connecting with friends and family and helping with reading and writing skills.
But the main danger you need to be aware of is grooming from sexual predators online. Child molesters find chat rooms and social networking sites like Facebook a perfect hunting ground for grooming children. ‘Grooming’ is the patient building up of trust with a youngster. The internet allows for this by offering constant access to young people. Access not available to many abusers in real life. Trust can be built up organically or – as shown by YouTube filmmaker Coby Persin in his recent viral video ‘The Dangers of Social Media’ – by perverts posing as other children.
Here are some disturbing facts:
- One in five US children report having been targeting by an online predator.
- They are 799,041 Registered Sex Offenders in the United States alone.
- 33% of teenagers have met up with someone online that they’d never met before.
Combine those three pieces of information and you’ll understand the very real danger. But what can you do to combat this threat? Well, here are our top tips for safeguarding your children against online deviants:
- Speak to them. Make sure your kids understand the issue and the danger signs.
- Encourage communication. Don’t frighten your child into silence. Promote a culture of two-way communication and they should then report any unusual activity to you.
- Report, report, report. Find out the relevant authority in your area and immediately report any suspicious activity.
- Tell your child not to share private information on the internet.
- Familiarize yourself with their friends. If you know them and their names, you might well spot any outsiders, any potential groomers for yourself.
- Set up parental controls. Many predators operate on chat rooms. Only allowing specific websites to be accessed by your child will prevent them using such websites themselves.
- Keep an eye on where your child goes when they’re offline. ‘Going round Tommy’s!’ Are they? Call Tommy’s parents. They’ll understand your very reasonable and real concerns.
The internet is enormous, you know that. A vast, swirling, ever-growing network of data, images, videos and content. It’s of such a scale that it’s almost impossible to fathom. But while the majority of websites are harmless, many are not. Sure, there are plenty of videos of cats and videos of old TV shows and things, but ‘inappropriate’ content is still thought to make up more than 30% of all web pages. 13% of all search engine searches are for erotic content. Online pornography – some of it of almost unbelievable explicitness – is out there. And your kids have access to it.
So armed with the knowledge than porn sites get more traffic than Netflix, Amazon and Twitter combined (yep, really!), what can you do to actively protect your child from viewing extreme hardcore pornography? Well, a number of things, in fact. Here are the best ways:
- 87% of kids surf the net alone. Curb that by only allowing them access in a communal living space where you or another guardian is likely to be in attendance, such as the living room.
- Install parental control software on any PC or laptop to which your children have access. Mobiles and tablets can also have controls put on them.
- It’s not just porn. Violent images are also worth guarding against. Whether it’s a stream of a Rated R horror movie or a news clip showing murders or pictures of dead or injured people, it’s not just nudity and sex that you need to censor.
- Be calm about your warnings. The bigger deal you make about it, the more you’ll intrigue your child. It’s only natural. Tell anyone not to press a button, they’re going to press it, right? Be firm but relaxed.
- Discuss age limits. Many websites are age restricted. Talk about these limits and why they’re in place. Get your child on board with your new rules.
- Block ads and pop-ups. Often these can be unmoderated and extremely explicit. Find out how to block unwanted content like pop-up advertising.
- Sleuth. Check your devices’ histories. Don’t feel bad, you’re not spying, you’re keeping your family safe.
Whether sent or received on a computer or smartphone, explicit personal images sent between underage teenagers and children is a big problem nowadays. 65% of 12-15 year-olds own a smartphone today. And 1 in 4 of those has received an unsolicited and unwanted explicit image. It’s frightening stuff.
But let’s start by saying that you shouldn’t scold your adolescents for wanting to get involved in sexting. Discovering one’s sexuality is normal. Any clamp down or shouting could just cause embarrassment and shut communication on the subject down. But you need to let your offspring know the dangers of sending such pictures:
- Regret. In the heat of the moment, it may seem fun. But that image will remain with whoever they sent it to.
- Distribution. The picture might end up being shared. One person sends it to two people. They send it to two people each. Before you know it – the entire school has seen it.
- Bullying. Once people have seen the image(s), real trouble can start at school.
- Reputation. Depending on age and a few other factors, your kid’s unblemished record could be affected and it might impact their social, academic or job prospects. Sad, but that’s the world we live in.
- Legal. Even if you’re a minor and the images are of yourself, sending an explicit picture that’s of a child is illegal. A recent news story saw a 14 year-old boy arrested for sending pictures of himself. He was charged with ‘making indecent images of children’. Seriously.
That’s preventative. What about if images are out there? Contact the website or web host. They’ll take it down. They’re legally obliged to. Also, contact the school. They can help limit the damage.
Most of us have experienced bullying at some point in our lives. Whether it was teasing when we were very young or actual abuse as older children or young adults, it’s never nice. But while the evolution of technology is bringing everything and everyone closer together, this has introduced a terrifying new element to the notion of bullying. ‘Cyberbullying’ now sees the playground bully able to continue their reign of terror long after the afternoon school bell has rung.
Whether it’s direct or indirect, cyberbullying can be a child’s worst nightmare. With a 100% rise in reported online bullying incidents in the past year alone, it’s perhaps this issue which concerns young people the most. It can be actual harassment and abuse straight from one person to another or an altogether more subtle form of group teasing – either way it can be hugely troubling. And silence reigns. Recent figures suggested that over a quarter of children being bullied on the internet never report it to their friends, family or school.
What you can do:
- Talk about the subject, whether you suspect bullying is occurring or not.
- Be open and non-judgmental. Any negativity or blaming will only encourage your child to clam up.
- Save all messages/texts/tweets. Screenshots, bookmarks, whatever. Compile a dossier to help track down the offender and put a stop to any cyberbullying.
- Be calm. Use the correct channels if your child experiences bullying. Do not be tempted to contact the child responsible, on or offline. You’ll potentially exacerbate the situation.
- Tell your child never to reply to abusive messages.
- Block! Most sites and social networks allow users to block others. Get it done.
It may be hard for many parents to accept, but the levels of self-harming among young adults is sky rocketing. And it’s not surprising. Over half of 11-14 year-olds have self-harmed or know someone who has. The last five years have seen a 70% increase in the number of young teenagers being admitted to A&E with self-inflicted images. So it’s a real problem.
Depression, bullying, low self-esteem. Many things can cause a youngster to cut themselves. Or worse. And while it’s important to look for the cause and solve it, we need to figuratively – and literally – stop the bleeding now. And one way is to stem the flow of information. If you can help your child emotionally, while restricting their access to websites which give advice and tips on self-harm and even suicide, you stand a much better chance of beating the affliction.
The number one thing you can do is set up parental filters. As we’ve already advised, this is a great way to restrict access to unsuitable sites. Most major broadband and mobile operators include self-harming and suicide websites in their list of banned websites, so you should be okay at home. But be aware that many public Wi-Fi hotspots do not have the same restrictions set up. So your children can still access dangerous sites when out and about. So be careful.
But the most important thing to do is talk. Oh, and listen. Maybe you can help. If you can’t. And the situation gets out of control, alert the school. And your local doctor. Get advice. If you can convince your child to accompany you to a therapy session, even better. Keep strong for them, too. That’s vital.
Sharing Personal Data
We’ve all had the internet long enough now to know that sharing our personal information online can be a big risk. There are enough scammers, con artists and hackers out there and they’re all greedy for our data. With it they can do pretty much what they want. Many of us have been scammed already. We’ve learned the hard way. But many children are naive. And why wouldn’t they be? It’s our responsibility to teach them to be shrewd.
The easiest way to ensure that your little ones aren’t handing over vital and personal info that could be used for nefarious purposes is to have a sit down with them. An open discussion about what can happen should ram the point home. Here are some points to cover in your chat:
- An easy way to frame it is to say, ‘would you tell a stranger to their face this thing?’ If the answer’s ‘no’ – don’t type it!
- Teach them about spam emails and websites. If they can begin to tell the difference then they won’t make the mistake of handing over private information which may put them in danger.
- Research and share your knowledge of social network privacy settings with them.
- Explain the fact that people may lie about who they are online in order to get into positions of trust and exploit that to extract information.
Now, when most people hear about the idea of ‘online radicalization’, they think of extremist Muslim groups grooming youngsters from Middle Eastern or Asian backgrounds. But that’s just one thread. While that is a big concern for certain communities, ‘radicalization’ can come from many, many other groups. Religious or otherwise.
Here are some of the things you should look out for:
- A sudden and overwhelming interest in a particular group, religion or cause.
- New and intense feelings that the group is unfairly treated.
- A sense of neediness before over identity. Were they seeking a group to join or align with?
- A defensive attitude that borders on the volatile or aggressive when challenged.
- Do they show little or no interest in former hobbies or friends?
- Are they secretive about their online behavior now?
As with so many of these issues, the best thing you can do here is monitor the situation and initiate an honest and upfront conversation with your child about it. Don’t get mad. You’ll scare them off.
It’s a scary world out there, folks. But it’s only scary if you go into it unprepared and lacking confidence. Sure there are hidden dangers and bad people about. But there are infinitely more good people. Be safe, be careful, but be confident. Your children need to be aware of dangers, but don’t bombard them with things. They need to grow up cautious but excited about the world. Don’t expose them to danger, but don’t make them grow up afraid.
Look after them. Look after yourself. Go online with confidence. Good luck!