The internet, whether we like it or not, is becoming a bigger and bigger part of our everyday life. We work online, we shop online, and we spend an increasing amount of our leisure time online, talking to friends and family on social media, consuming video content on websites such as YouTube and playing games. In the most part, the internet is a good thing, but a side issue of this is that online crimes have become much more of a danger. Just like everything else, criminals evolve, and it can be a battle to keep on top of it. Just as we think we have solved one problem, these online criminals find new ways to target vulnerable people and discover new opportunities to exploit and harm others. We can do a Wilfrid Laurier Online Criminology Degree to try and get into these peoples mindset and get a step ahead of them, but it is not always quite so easy. Parents may not always be able to do courses like this, but want to look at ways to protect their children and keep them safe when they are using the internet. In this article, we look at some of the things that parents, or anyone in charge of children, can do to help protect their children from the dangers can be found online.
Understand the dangers
Before you can go about protecting your children, you need to understand what the dangers facing them include. You probably already know how important it is to create secure passwords and to change them on a regular basis, how to protect your personal details and logging out of websites when you have finished on them. However, some of the things that you may not have thought about that are very real issues facing children on the internet include:
Bullying and harassment
The phrase ‘sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me’ is, sadly, no longer true. Bullying is moving in a whole new direction, and bullies no longer have to see their victims face to face in order to hurt them. Cyberbullying, particularly across social media and apps such as Snapchat and WhatsApp is more prevalent and can cause just as much damage – if not more – than physical bullying. The easiest solution is to stop children having social media profiles in the first place, but we all know that sometimes, this is not quite as easy as it seems, as many will want to give in to peer pressure. If they do have these social network profile apps, insist on having access to them and check them regularly, and encourage them to tell you if something or someone is upsetting them. It is very difficult to manage if you don’t know it is happening.
Extreme views and grooming
We cannot ignore the role that social media and the internet has played in the past, and continues to play in grooming and radicalization of younger people. There is a need to make sure children are thinking critically and are resilient to online extremism. Keep an eye on what websites your children are visiting and if you see anything that looks suspicious, report it. If your child begins to show a change in behavior – a change in beliefs, or odd travel plans, for example – stop their internet access immediately.
Promotion of eating disorders and self-harm
Social media can be extraordinarily dangerous for those suffering from an eating disorder or who may be vulnerable to self-harm. Believe it or not, there are websites out there that actively promote anorexia and bulimia as a lifestyle choice. One of the most appealing features of social media and the internet as a whole is that you can access groups of people and communities that you may not otherwise be able to. To make this even worse, a lot of the ‘pro-ana’ websites are hidden behind the facade of anorexia support groups, so are actively targeting those who are already vulnerable.
Sadly, it is very likely that your child has unintentionally come across pornographic content online. There is an alarming amount of this content available on social media, and the quickest of Google searches throws up various pornographic websites. The best, although not foolproof by any means, way of preventing them from accessing this information is to use blocks and filters on your home internet and to check them regularly.
How Can I Keep Them Safe?
We have covered some of the points above, but here are some of the things you can do to keep your children safe online.
1. Be Aware
Being aware of what social media networks your children are on, who they are talking to and the websites that they are looking at are probably the most important things you can do to help keep your children safe online.
2. Take control
Making the most of the parental controls available on your home internet and the devices that your children are using to access the internet will help to keep them safe. The most popular browsers have features to block inappropriate or malicious content, as well as safe search filters. If you want something a little more secure, there is software that can allow you to receive email alerts and record keystrokes. For younger children, there are devices designed specifically for them that prevents access to the internet and specific websites.
3. Lock down social media profiles
If your child does have a social media presence, insist that is made private. Social networks can be sneaky, making their privacy setting quite tricky to understand. While your profile may be closed, you may find that friends of friends can see certain things. Regularly go into the settings and make sure that it is set to the highest privacy level.
4. Have discussions
It is essential to have regular discussions with your children about what they are viewing online and any issues that they are having. They may not understand some of the dangers that they face online, so making sure that they are aware of them and that they need to tell a trusted adult if they see something that frightens, upsets or worries them.
5. Remind them that the internet cannot be deleted
Even if a child deletes something immediately after posting it or publishing it, it can be there forever. It only takes a second for someone to screenshot it and send it around their friends or the school, and it can haunt them for many years to come. More and more employers and university and college admissions departments look online to see what has been posted by or about a person, and something silly published in their teens can have a significant impact on the rest of their life.
6. Reassure them
Make sure that they know that if they accidentally come across anything that they shouldn’t, or even if their curiosity has gotten the best of them, you will not overreact. An overreaction from you can make them frightened of opening up to you, and you want them to know that they can come to you and share their fears and worries at any time. They need to see that you are not there to stop them having fun on the internet, but that their best interests and their overall safety, both in real life and online is your priority.