Allowing kids to use the Internet without supervision is like allowing them to leave home and explore a major city all by themselves. The Internet presents a vast amount of information and resources, much of which is not suitable for children. Although we cannot watch our kids every minute, parents can use strategies to help children benefit from the Internet and avoid its potential risks.
As access to technology increases throughout the country, more and more children have opened the door to the online world. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, access to computers and the Internet is more widespread among children and adolescents ages 5 through 17 than among adults; and about 90 percent of 5- to 17-year-olds use computers and 59 percent use the Internet.
The dangers of browsing the Internet often depend on the age of the user. Young children may come across websites containing adult images or sites containing racist, sexist or violent themes. For teens, the use of social media has created a whole host of problems.
The trouble with social media
Although social-networking websites allow kids to connect with their friends, these sites often ask young users to create a profile using personal information such as their age, date of birth, sex, hobbies, and which school they attend, not to mention personal photos. While these profiles help kids connect and share common interests, Internet predators looking to victimize children often use online profiles to search for potential victims.
Another potentially devastating trend among teens is emailing or posting sexually graphic photos or text. It is important for teens to know that they cannot “take back” texts and images posted online. This information is accessible to the public. Anyone having access to this information can save and forward these postings to an unlimited number of users. Parents should talk to their kids about how once images are posted online they lose control of their use and dissemination.
Kids often live in the moment and may not realize the potential consequences of their online activities. Posting harmful, sexually explicit, or demeaning information online can lead to being humiliated in front of family and peers. Teens who post or forward graphic or threatening messages about another student can be suspended from school, and may be charged criminally. Also, it is important for parents to encourage their children to immediately report being the victim of bullying, whether online, by text or by phone.
Tips for safeguarding children from harmful material
Supervising a child’s use of the Internet has become increasingly harder. Kids can connect to the Internet from a computer at home, a library, school, or anywhere using a laptop, cell phone, or handheld device. Parents can minimize the risks associated with their kids’ Internet use at home by choosing an Internet browser with age-appropriate filters. Many Internet service providers offer free filters to help prevent kids from accessing inappropriate websites. Parents should place computers in an area of the home where children can be directly monitored.
Parents with teens should examine which social-networking websites their kids are using and establish ground rules about use of the internet, email and texts. Teens should be made aware of the consequences of their actions and develop good judgment.
Demand the use of privacy settings to limit access to their profiles to only the friends or individuals the teen actually knows. Make it a rule with your kids to never give out personal information or meet anyone in person without your prior knowledge and consent. Parents should also have full access to their kids’ password and log-on information. If you suspect a pedophile may be grooming or trying to befriend your child – or your child is being bullied or harassed, parents should contact law enforcement.
Unquestionably, the most effective method to reduce your child’s online risks is to educate them from an early age about the dangers they may encounter when online. Setting age-appropriate boundaries and monitoring your children’s use of the internet can help ensure a safe and meaningful online experience.