When it comes to keeping the kids safe online, many parents confess to feeling out of their depth. Simple censorship doesn’t always work because kids are often one step ahead, so what’s needed is a cooperative approach, starting at an early age, that helps both them and you be alert to dangers and take appropriate action.
The risks of the online environment
There are six key dangers facing children online which parents should look out for:
Bullying – the single most common problem faced by children online, this is usually instigated by other children they know from school or from a sports or hobby group. It can be very cruel and sometimes involves extortion or a pretence of really liking the child before humiliating them. This can lead to acute distress and sometimes self harm. Of course, there is also a possibility that your child could become a bully.
Grooming and abuse – children are at risk where they come into contact with adults, who may pretend to be children themselves. Sometimes they can also be at risk from older children. As well as the danger that children could be persuaded to meet a potential abuser in person, there’s a danger that they can be exploited online, being asked for inappropriate images or videos and then pressured into supplying more.
Radicalisation – although some children are more vulnerable to this than others, no child is completely safe, even if they are well educated for their age and generally sensible. In fact, sometimes it’s those who are most diligent and caring toward others who are most likely to be attracted to a seemingly heroic cause. There are many forms of radicalisation, usually based around fringe religious groups, cults or militant single issue political groups.
Inappropriate content – even if you think of yourself as a liberal parent, there is pornographic material online that is extreme enough to disturb an adult, never mind a child, and that could give an impressionable child the wrong impression about how it’s acceptable to treat others. There’s also a risk that non-sexual material containing violence or gory images (such as medical illustrations) could be seriously upsetting for younger children.
Gambling and careless spending – no matter how careful you think you’re being, it’s often all too easy for your kids to get hold of your credit cards. Online gambling can be very attractive to some children, who have difficulty assessing risk, whilst others manage to rack up huge bills buying small add-ons for their Facebook games or buying toys and collectibles on online auction sites.
Illegal downloading – it might seem unfair, but if your children engage in illegal downloading from your home network, you could be liable for associated fines (which are sometimes huge). Children are particularly likely to be caught if they do engage in activity of this sort because they often boast about it with their friends online.
Getting into trouble online often makes children feel ashamed or guilty, feelings which can be exploited by those out to hurt or take advantage of them. This can often lead to them becoming withdrawn, and it’s important not to respond to it with anger – you need them to know you are someone they can trust. You should also be alert to increased secrecy (especially about their movements outside home and school), to unexplained new possessions (which could be gifts or a result of shopping binges) and to signs of self harm.
Protecting your children
One way you can protect your children is to install an internet filter. Look out for ones with lots of flexibility that give you the option to adjust what’s allowed as your child gets older. For instance, you might want to limit a very young child’s email to family and a few close friends but allow them to socialise more widely as they get older. The trick is to balance protection with giving them room to grow.
One thing you will need to make clear to your child early on is the importance of protecting personal information. This is all the more important because system weaknesses like the bashbug, which many people have yet to tackle in their domestic networks, make things easier than ever for hackers. Getting good internet security installed on your network can do a lot to help protect your children.
Ultimately there is no foolproof way to keep your kids safe online, so the most important thing is that they know they can come to you if something does go wrong. Don’t let the computer become something you fight over – instead, show them that you’re there to empower them to use it safely and become better at controlling their own experiences online.
The image is courtesy of Clare Bloomfield | Free Digital Photos
This post is collaborated with Aimee Wilson