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Child Safety and the Internet

Introduction and Risks

Nearly 93 percent of children between ages 12-17 are not only online but also digitally apt, exhibiting a level of proficiency that far surpasses that of parents, guardians, or other adults. Adolescents and teens today feel pressured, at times, to post provocative pictures, videos, and blog about extremely personal information in public platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Few, if any, children consciously think through the implications and consequences of their online actions.

Over the past fifteen years, with the advent of the Internet, the rise of social mediums, and the technological proficiency of adolescents and teens, many children do, indeed, fall victim to a variety of online dangers, including sexual harassment and cyber bullying, among others. Over the past fifteen years, for example, the Internet has become the leading technology for distributing hard-core pornography, grossing about $13 billion annually. Child pornography alone is a $3 billion per-year industry and is currently one of the fastest growing businesses online. Sexual predators can communicate with and easily gain access to children and teens, although according to the New York Times, a task force created by 49 state attorneys general concluded that sexual solicitation online is far less of a problem than was originally thought. However, the task force did find that bullying among children, both online and offline poses a far more serious risk than the sexual solicitation of minors by adults. Forty-three percent of teens aged 13 to 17 report that they have experienced a form of cyber bullying in the past year.

Children and teens also run the risk of falling prey to data theft and malicious software. Although minors do not risk as much financial loss as adults, they are in danger of exposure to those aiming to steal their online identity. Children are more vulnerable to becoming victims of data theft, as they are unable to identify and report data-snatching malware, and also because they are less cautious about sharing sensitive or highly personal information with strangers and friends. Malicious software or malware includes adware, viruses, keylogging software, and backdoor Trojoan programs, with which many children and teens are unfamiliar. These programs load through infected links when users click on ads or buttons designed to launch the programs. Children are often involved in link-sharing and file-sharing among their peers and consequently are at higher risk of downloading infected programs into their computers. Having both parents and children become familiar with security terms and what danger each security threat poses is one way to combat data theft and malicious software.



Tips for Safety

Talking openly with your child about topics such as online sexual predators, pornography, and cyber bulling. Studies continue to demonstrate that children whose parents openly speak to them about Internet safety display significantly safer online behaviors. They are less likely to look at inappropriate content, talk to strangers and experience cyber bullying while online.

Review on a daily basis what is on your child’s computer. If you are not computer proficient or would simply like an additional opinion, ask a friend, coworker, relative, or other knowledgeable person.

Monitor your child’s access to all types of live electronic communications, such as Facebook, Twitter, Formspring. Educate your child on how to be safe on social sites as well as gaming sites.

Spend time with your children online. Have them teach you about their favorite online destinations.

Keep the computer in a common room in the house, not in your child’s bedroom.

Utilize parental controls provided by your service provider and/or blocking software.

Teach your child the responsible use of the resources online. Show your child that the Internet is not merely a platform for socialization.

Educate yourself on the computer safeguards that are utilized by your child’s school, the public library, and at the homes of your child’s friends.

Teach your child to be extremely cautious when opening downloads or links from friends and strangers.

Advise your child to refrain from automatically clicking “yes” buttons anywhere on the screen–read all text carefully.

Utilize Microsoft’s Safety and Security Center Guide. Educate your child on the importance of establishing long and hard-to-guess passwords. Reinforce that this information is sensitive and private.


Additional Resources

Protect Kids.com- This website offers a variety of tools for children and parents to learn more about cyber space protection.

Enough is Enough- Enough Is Enough is an educational organization who seeks to educate and protect children online.

FBI: Kids Safety Tips-   A collection of safety tips for young children compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Web Wise Kids- Wise Kids is a national nonprofit organization based in Southern California with satellite offices in the Northwest and Washington, D.C.  The mission of Wise Kids is to empower today’s youth to make wise choices online.

The Police Notebook-This resource contains a slideshow featuring information on how children can protect themselves on the Internet and in other situations as well.

Top Internet Safety Tips for Parents-Compiled by the Family Online Safety Institute, this resource features of list of top ten Internet safety tips for parents and their children.