Keeping kids safe online is a new priority for the digital age.
Children born since 1990 have never known life before the Internet their parents created. It is a normal part of their day that hovers under an imaginary blanket of security. However, the dangers lurking the net are very real and can harm pint-sized web surfers in more ways than one. How is a parent to ensure their child’s safety when, chances are, the kid knows more about how to use the Internet than the adult?
One of the single most important things a parent can do is monitor their child’s Internet usage. Make sure the child can only access the web from a central location in the home, with the screen visible to passing parental glances. Many rely on parental controls to safeguard their little ones from unscrupulous content but there is no substitute for flesh and blood supervision. And, since many security providers update their services often, sometimes things slip through the cracks.
Children also need to be spoken to about the pros and cons of a freely accessible world. Parents should explain that, while the Internet has opened up the possibilities for unlimited knowledge and social interactions, it has also spawned a society of faceless criminals and ne’er-do-wellers.
The dangers of the Internet don’t stop at the with the computer. Children can access downloads, social media, and other content from cell phones, tablets, handheld gaming devices, game consoles, and even MP3 players. This makes parental diligence where online regulation is concerned vital since most kids and young teens don’t fully understand the possible negative consequences of their online actions.
So, what are the dangers lurking just under the glitter of Google and other search engines? Kidnappers, child molesters, identity thieves, and other criminals are out there waiting for a slightest “slip of the tongue” to gather information about the child’s (or adults’) whereabouts, vacation schedules, new gifts…the list goes on and on. Aside from individuals looking for trouble, the Internet’s very nature of information sharing makes even simple searches a mucky journey. One misspelled word from an immature vocabulary could bring up search results that are better suited for the garbage pile than a child’s eyes.
The bottom line is that freedom of information and ease of access has made this world smaller than anyone could have ever imagined. It has brought people together, helped raise awareness for causes that would have otherwise been left unknown, and made the distance between loved-ones little more than a minor inconvenience. It has also written a new role-call of risks to try and avoid. Today’s children are, by a matter of circumstance, vulnerable to dangers that no other generation before have known. It is the job of the ones who constructed the information superhighway to continue to ensure that its avenues are safe to travel for everyone – but until that day comes, safety must start at home. Children armed with information are stronger, smarter, and safer online.