Insuring Child Safety Online

The internet has given us the power to find information on just about anything. The downside to the ease of using the internet is the growing number of risks involved. As a parent in the digital age, learning how to control what your child sees on the internet and protecting them against the risks of using it can be a challenge. The best way to prepare and protect your child is to learn what you can do to teach them proper internet usage from a young age and promote lines of communication.

 

Online Threats Explained

The issues with the internet are the growing problems with online threats. We'll go on to explain the types of online threats that could affect you and your child.

 

Cyber Bullying

Stop Bullying defines cyber-bullying as bullying that happens electronically. It can take place on a number of devices such as computers and mobile phones. Bullying can take form through texting, email, or as embarrassing pictures on social media. Those who are cyber-bullied can also be bullied in person. The hard thing about cyber-bullying is that it is difficult to get away from. Also, once embarrassing or incrementing posts and pictures have been sent through the internet, it becomes difficult to locate the source.  

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Social Media

Social media has become a great tool for finding friends, connecting with old acquaintances, or promoting events. This article at American Academy of Pediatrics states that with the growing number of pre-adolescents and adolescents using social media, emotional and social development is occurring while on the internet and through cellphones.  

While using social media can be beneficial, some risks include cyber-bullying, online harassment, sexting, depression, and privacy concerns. Advertisements that target the user based on websites they visit or keywords they use can give adolescents a false sense of what is “normal.”

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Online Scams, Phishing, Malware, and Frauds

With increased online usage of email, scams, phishing, and malware occurrences have also increased. Indiana University explains phishing as fraudulent email messages appearing to come from legitimate enterprises. These types of messages send you to a spoofed website or try to get you to divulge private information. The perpetrators then use the information to commit identity theft.

There is also malware that can collect data and slow down your computer. Information Systems and Technology defines malware as software that gets installed on your machine and performs unwanted tasks. Malware can include viruses, adware, spyware, and browser hijacking software. Malware can enter your computer sometimes bundled with other software you download. Others can be installed by a website claiming it needs a certain software update or a certificate in order to use and view it.  

To learn more, visit USA.GOV: Online safety.  

 

Online Predators

Online predators are as much as a threat to children and teens as are real-life ones. Family Safe Computers states that online predators use the anonymity of the internet to their advantage. It is easier to gain trust without having to be seen. Predators look for children who are more tech-savvy than their parents. They also find children who are emotionally vulnerable due to issues at home or school. Signs that your child might be a victim of an online predator include spending a lot of time with online devices, pornographic material on their devices, withdrawing from normal activity, or shows signs of worry and distress.  

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Personal Privacy

We all shop or have accounts that we access with the internet. Our personal information, while behind strong security, can be hacked by anyone with the know-how. Get Safe Online lists the risks of your information online. The top risk being identity theft, with other risks including blackmail and stalking. Also, using unsecured Wi-Fi networks, phishing, and not using strong passwords are some of the ways through which your privacy can be compromised.  

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General Health and Well-being

Using the internet can also have detrimental effects on our health, especially when it comes to social media. A study posted at Phys reported on how using Facebook affected college students’ well-being. Those who used Facebook more felt less life satisfaction. Also, there is a condition called Facebook Depression. Children and teens can have a false sense of what their life should be like, based on what they see from friends and others on Facebook. The use of social media can also lead to anxiety and low self-esteem.  

At the National Library of Medicine, a study shows that social media usage can possibly lead to addiction and, when suddenly cutting usage, users can have symptoms of withdrawl like with narcotics.  

To read more, visit Cornell Research: how social media affects our well-being.  

 

Guidelines Based on Age

Each age group needs specific guidelines when thinking about how to protect your child from dangers and risks on the internet.

 

Up to 10 Years of Age

Children 10 years of age or younger need considerable amounts of supervised internet use. Stay safe online suggests keeping positively engaged with your child as they start their journey online. Support their good choices and always keep the family computer “clean” from viruses, malware, and other security threats. Visit websites to view privacy policies and make use of parental controls on popular websites like YouTube.  

Other things to consider when allowing a child of this age group to engage in the internet would be:  

  • Discuss the implications of posting information on the internet. All photos, posts, and videos can most likely be viewed by anyone at any time.
  • Teach them to be good “digital citizens” and respect their friends’ and family's information.
  • Place the computer in a high traffic area.
  • Designate a time of supervised usage of the internet.
  • Have them visit sites that are geared towards children specifically.
  • Consider using separate accounts on your computer.

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Age 10-14

The older a child gets, the less supervision they will need to use the internet, however as children get older, they will want to explore the internet further. Netsmartz411 gives some tips for this age group. Children around this age are likely to use email and messaging services, get online in private, start looking for inappropriate content, and/or gossip online.  

  • Continue to monitor your child's use of the internet.
  • Explain to them what could happen if they express emotions without control on the internet.
  • Ask your children to give you their email address and passwords.
  • Talk to them about being cautious when using the internet.

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Age 14-18

It is said that 95% of teenagers today are on the internet. Love146 poses some questions for parents to ask their teens in order to determine their daily internet usage. You can have your teen tell you where and when they typically use the internet the most and suggest responsible ways to use social media.  

Talk to your teen about sexting. All smartphones have cameras, which allows us to take pictures anytime and anywhere. “Sexy selfies” can be a normal practice for teens. Make sure your teen knows the consequences of someone using this kind of picture against them. Also, any provocative or explicit material they are taking themselves can be seen as producing child pornography. Pose such questions to your teen, such as “Would you do this face-to-face?” or “Would I be OK with this photo posted in public at school?”  

The website goes on to list proper app usage, websites to watch out for, and how to develop a safety plan for if they run into online threats. Keep lines of communications open with your teen and let them know they can come to you if they run into trouble. You won't be able to supervise all internet usage, but you can teach your teen basic rules and etiquette to avoid issues.  

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Setting Parental Controls

There is no way we can 100% block all of the risks our children may run into on the internet, but the best way is to set parental controls on what your child can and cannot see. Parental Controls – On's entire website shows you how to set parental controls on a variety of devices. You can choose which devices you would like to set controls on.  

Other types of parental controls can include restricting use for only a certain time of day and limiting the amount of time spent on the internet. You can also stop them from downloading apps they are too young for and manage content control for different members of the family.  

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Additional Resources

Child Mind has a great article regarding social media and teens: How using social media affects teenagers.

Connect Safely offers internet safety guidelines at: guidelines for internet use.

David O. McKay School of Education is also a good resource for information: Internet safety.

The Bonner County Sheriff's Office also offers advice for parents and children: Internet safety.