When dealing with children, there is a constant struggle between trying to keep them safe while also allowing them the freedom to explore and learn about themselves and the world. This has always been a challenge, but it's become even more difficult thanks to the internet. Kids have access to more information than they've ever had before, and this exposes them to a whole new set of risks.
It's important to know what threats kids are facing so that you can have the right conversations and implement the precautionary measures. It's also hugely important to set some fair and effective ground rules for how your kids use the internet.
To help you do this, we've compiled some stats about the dangers that kids face when they go online. We've also outlined some of the best ways you can make sure your children stay safe when they're browsing the wide world of the web.
For many parents, the internet and smartphones were first introduced when we were in high school or later. This meant that many teens did not have access to these technologies. However, things have changed dramatically. Here are some stats from the Pew Research Center:
That so many kids play video games is interesting because nowadays most video games are played online. In some cases, this can be a great way for kids to interact with one another but as you will see, it also opens kids up to new dangers for which we must prepare.
The web has become such a part of daily life that it's impossible to keep your kids from going online however that shouldn't be your objective. The web can be a great resource for kids, and adults, to access educational materials, find out about and learn new hobbies, and communicate with friends and family.
As a result, it's better to understand the risks and to develop strategies to mitigate them than to hopelessly try to prevent kids from accessing the internet.
Below is some information about the main threats kids face while they are online.
When most people think of the risks kids face on the internet, they immediately think of the show Dateline, or "To Catch a Predator."
It's true that kids are at risk of being exposed to sexual predators over the internet, but this is not the biggest danger they face.
Instead, kids are more at risk of being attacked by their peers, a phenomenon known as cyberbullying.
According to the StopBullying.gov and the National Crime Prevention Center, cyberbullying is bullying that takes place over digital devices such as cell phones, computers, and tablets. This includes, but is not limited to, SMS and text message, social media, forums, online gaming, and any other app that allows people to view, participate and share content.
Just like in-person bullying, cyberbullying can have long-lasting effects on a child's mental health. For example, according to the Cyberbullying Research Center, 64 percent of kids who have experienced cyberbullying feel it affects their ability to learn and perform in school.
A study conducted by Ditch the Label found that cyberbullying can also lead to social anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, self-harm, eating disorders, and drug and alcohol abuse.
As a result, to keep your children safe online, it's important to monitor your kids' internet use and understand the signs the cyberbullying might be occurring.
Just because sexual abuse is not the primary threat kids face, it doesn't mean it's not an issue. In general, the fear we have of our children meeting sexual predators online is somewhat overblown but it does happen.
For example, a study on internet-initiated sexual abuse cases found that the majority of the instances of assault were cases of statutory rape, meaning the act took place between an adult and someone too young to be able to consent.
But to put your mind at ease a little bit, consider that:
Just 7 percent of all statutory rape cases are initiated on the internet
Only 1 percent of all sex crime arrests deal with a predator who met their victim online. The Journal of Public Policy
This means allowing your kids to go online does not automatically expose them to sexual predators. Yet there is still a risk.
To give you an idea, know that one in five teenagers who regularly use the internet have received an unwanted solicitation at one time or another. This is defined as a request to engage in sexual activities or sexual talk, or to give personal sexual information.
Furthermore, despite a relative low rate of occurrence, the internet is still a good place for predators to try and meet their victims. Below is a graph of the most common actions sexual predators take online. Data provided by the aforementioned article from The Journal of Public Policy.
Predators do these things because an attacker's first goal is usually to try to first develop a relationship with the child before attempting to arrange an in-person meeting, and the internet is a great place to do just that.
These statistics are not meant to scare you, but rather to warn you about the dangers your children face if you do not help them to develop healthy internet use habits, something which we will outline below.
Most of us don't consider children to be particularly vulnerable to identity theft, largely because they don't work, carry debt, check their credit, or have bank accounts.
However, they do have social security numbers, and because they are relatively inactive in the economy, they are actually great targets for cybercriminals.
They can steal your kids' information and change their age to apply for loans, get credit cards, and execute other scams. This is why 1.3 million kids have their identity stolen each year.
Children who have their identity stolen won't likely find out that it has happened until years later when they go to apply for a loan. This can dramatically affect their future, and it's why we should be worried about protecting them now.
The last major threat kids face when they use the internet is exposure to violent or explicit content. The web has become a symbol of free speech, and because of this, there are relatively few filters on what people can post.
However, this doesn't mean your children should be seeing everything. Many children will find it by accident, though. For example, it's believed that around 70 percent of children have encountered pornography online without searching for it.
But many other kids will seek this content out, and studies suggest they are quite good at hiding it.
In fact, 70 percent of kids admit to keeping information about their online activity a secret from their parents.
In general, it's normal for kids to hide things from their parents but when it comes to their internet use, they could be in danger. This is why it's so important to be vigilant when it comes to how your kids behave online.
As you can see, the dangers the internet poses to children are many and severe. The only surefire way to keep them safe would be to keep them away from the web at all times.
This is not only unfair—kids should not be denied the good things the internet has to offer just because there are some bad things that come with it—but ineffective.
Eventually your children will grow up, and it's best you prepare them for the risks that are out there so that they can stay as safe as possible at all times. So, here are some strategies to follow to help keep your kids safe when they use the internet.
Kids are notorious for trying to keep things from their parents, and things are no different online. In fact, just 25 percent of kids will tell their parents if they are going to meet up with someone they met online, and this number drops to 10 percent when that "someone" is an adult.
The best defense against this is to be involved in your kid's life. Know who they hang out with and how they spend their time. If they all of a sudden decide to do something way out of the ordinary, then ask questions. Find out where they're going, and if you don't like what you hear, then make sure to go with them.
When kids ask to use the computer or family tablet, or if you see them on a phone, ask them what they are doing or what they plan to do, and then follow up with them.
The most important thing you can do to protect your kids is to talk with them about the dangers that exist online. Remind them they shouldn't give out their personal information to anyone, and that they should be wary about talking to people they don't know.
It's the same conversation you had with them about talking to strangers, except this time it is taking place in the digital space.
Furthermore, talking to your kids will help them understand why you are concerned. They will see you less as a nosy adult and more as a concerned parent, and this will also increase the chances they tell you about an issue they are experiencing online.
The internet, and especially social media, is an ever-changing landscape. New apps pop up and quickly become all the rage. As a result, it's important you stay informed about what your kids can access.
For example, right now there are several apps such as Audio Manager, Calculator%, and Vaulty that allow your kids to store private files and protect things from unwanted eyes. These look like regular apps, but when you access them, they ask for a password, and entering it brings you to a totally new and secret part of a kid's phone.
If you see your kid using one of these apps, then it's smart to have a conversation with them about it. That said, these aren't the only types of apps that pose a threat. More specifically, apps which promise to instantly delete photos or messages, such as SnapChat, Burn Note, and Line, are particularly dangerous.
Kids tend to think this auto-delete feature means they can do anything, but this just isn't the case; someone can easily take a screenshot of what they send. So, it's smart to talk to your kids about how these apps can't completely do what they promise.
Click here for a full list of suspect apps you should know about.
Another good way to help a child stay safe online is to know what they are saying to other people. However, this can often be rather difficult. The language kids use in chat rooms and text messages can look like something from another planet.
As a result, it's smart to keep up with the various acronyms kids use to express things in a shorthand way. Internet Safety 101 has an exhaustive list, but we've pulled a few of the ones that are relevant to keeping kids safe, such as:
8 Oral Sex
143 I love you
182 I hate you
1174 Nude club
CD9 Code 9/parents are around
FWB Friends with benefits
FYEO For your eyes only
GNOC Get naked on cam
GYPO Get your pants off
IWSN I want sex now
KPC Keeping parents clueless
LMIRL Let's meet in real life
MOS/POS Mom over shoulder/parent over shoulder
P911 Parent alert
PIR Parent in room
RU/18 Are you over 18?
Obviously there's a gray area here. You don't want to invade your child's privacy by reading their messages, but if you see them using any of these acronyms with someone online, it's smart to find out who they're talking to and why.
Again, the best thing to do is to talk to kids so that they know the dangers they face online and can develop good practices.
One guaranteed way to keep kids safe is to limit the amount of time they spend online. If they have a smartphone, this could be tricky, but if they don't, there are a number of things you can do.
For example, tell kids to leave their phones or tablets outside of their rooms when they go to bed, and refrain from putting TVs or computers in kids' bedrooms.
Keeping these devices in common areas will also make it easier for you to keep tabs on your kids' online activity. They might not like it, but this isn't about what they want or like. It's about keeping them protected from unnecessary harm.
Most sites that allow you to communicate with other people, from gaming platforms to social media, have customizable privacy settings. Talk to your kids about what these are and why they exist.
Then, ask your kids to show you their settings so that you can verify they are set to provide maximum protection. Make sure kids can only share information with people in their network, and also make sure that their accounts aren't easily discoverable. For example, on Facebook, you can set your account so that no one can find you. This forces kids to reach out to people with whom they want to connect, and it prevents people you don't want your kids talking to from finding them.
This will help prevent kids from receiving unwanted solicitations that could be dangerous.
If you feel you're struggling to get through to your children about the need to protect themselves online, then there are more drastic steps you can take.
Most internet service providers and phone companies have tools to help you keep your kids away from unwanted content. You can block sites, set up passwords, and restrict use. You can even set up permission settings so that kids can't download apps onto their phone without your approval.
If you don't feel your provider is doing enough, there are third-party apps you can use to make it easier for you to keep your kids safe. Good options include:
Familytime (Android and iOS)
Qustodio (Android, iOS,Kindle, Nook)
ESET Parental Control (Android)
Web Watcher (Android and iOS)
Again, there is a fine line here. You don't want kids to feel as though you're watching over their shoulder, but you do want them to know there are boundaries. The best thing to do is to start with a conversation and if you sense things are questionable, you can implement these solutions.
Lastly, it's important to know some of the signs your kid might be doing things online they shouldn't be. These include:
Suddenly becoming shy or closed off about their online activity
Refraining from using the internet in public areas
Resisting going to school or hanging out with friend (this is especially the case if a child is the victim of cyberbullying)
Changing friend groups suddenly
Asking to do things they don't normally do
These are just some of the behavior changes your kid could exhibit if they are being targeted online. But again, if you maintain a constant dialogue and are involved in your kids' lives, then you should be able to spot when they are in danger.
Being a successful parent does not mean shielding your kids from every possible source of danger. This is not only impossible, but it will prevent your child from feeling comfortable with themselves and the world around them.
However, there are risks, and with so many kids these days online, these risks are new and different.
Hopefully this guide has helped you understand what dangers are lurking on the web and has given you the tools you need to protect your children.