Internet Safety: Protecting Children In Cyberspace

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The Internet is like a vast city-full of virtual shops, museums, theaters and recreational activities. But like real cities, there are certain places online that children shouldn’t visit alone.

A recent study by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children revealed several startling facts about Internet users between the ages of 10 and 17:

• One in five children is inappropriately or sexually solicited on the Internet;

• One in 33 children receives an aggressive sexual solicitation-someone who asks to meet them in real life, calls them on the telephone or sends them mail, money or gifts;

• One in four children has unwanted exposure to pictures of naked people or people having sex;

• One in 17 children is threatened or harassed online; and

• Less than 10 percent of sexual solicitations and only 3 percent of unwanted exposure episodes are reported to authorities.

A similar study done by the Crimes Against Children Research Center indicates that young girls are more likely than boys to have close online relationships with cyber pals, which puts them at an increased risk of being contacted and romanced by sexual predators in Internet chat rooms and similar Web communities.

Modern parents often feel overwhelmed by these complicated high-tech issues and need someone to help make sense of it all and show them how to keep up with their cyber-savvy children. Pooling the knowledge of its national network of certified technicians, Geeks On Call has developed a special program known as “Kids Club” that offers educational materials to parents and schools to help promote Internet safety for children.

At the core of the Kids Club program is a free publication titled A “Parents’ Guide to Internet Safety,” which is designed to provide parents with simple, practical advice about ways to protect their children and how to be actively involved in their kids’ digital lives. The guide divides the subject of Internet safety into two categories: personal safety for children and technological safety for computers.

Other aspects of the Kids Club program include interactive workshops for students and Internet-safety seminars for parents and teachers.

If convicted, Drew could serve up to 20 years in prison.

More work needs to be done to stem the growing plague of cyberbullying that has become the bully’s medium of choice in the 21st century, and serves to remind us all that with freedom comes responsibility, and an obligation to look out for those under our care. The Internet offers a wealth of knowledge, resources, games, and entertainment that can (and should) be enjoyed by everyone. However, with the freedom that comes from an unlimited, unregulated communications network also comes the need to be diligent and aware of the dangers that lurk therein.

Numerous resources are now available to help minimize the risk of being victimized online. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the Children’s Education Network, the American Family Association, and other worthwhile organizations provide Internet filtering tools. Organizations like these, as well as our own organization, the Kid Safe Network, provide a variety of educational resources to help raise the awareness level of those who are online.

It behooves all families who have children who are online to become cognizant of the dangers that exist on the Internet, and to establish protocols to minimize the risks these dangers present. Simple things like not giving out personal information to anyone online are a good starting point. Having Internet-enabled computers in open living areas where activities can be monitored is another. Utilizing Internet filtering software, antivirus protection and an active firewall on your computer is essential. Being conscious that predators who make contact with children often send prepaid phone cards or prepaid cell phones to prospective victims as part of the “grooming” process and to watch for mail or parcels arriving from unknown sources.

If you detect changes in your child’s demeanor while or after they have been online, ask open ended questions. They may have been the target of a cyberbullying attack or approached by a predator. Children need to know they can talk openly and honestly with their parents without fear of negative or overly emotional reactions. If a child is the target of a cyberbully or predator, they need to be taught to immediately tell a parent or guardian and steps to preserve the communication need to be taken. Law enforcement should also be contacted so the perpetrator can be identified and apprehended.

Most important, talk to your children about the threats they may encounter on the Internet. They will appreciate your honesty and the fact that you showing interest in their welfare and well-being. While they may not fully grasp the seriousness of the threat, your personal input in cautioning your children as to the dangers faced and the fact they can come to you at any time with their concerns helps empower them when online. By establishing online time limits, guidelines for Internet use, and explaining that you as a parent reserve the right to monitor their activities at any time also lays the groundwork for a safer, more enjoyable Internet experience and reduces the risks that your child will be exposed to the “dark side” of the World Wide Web.

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