The internet is a fundamental part of daily life for children and adults alike. Since everything is moving towards interconnectedness, it has a fundamental role in molding younger generations’ perception of the world and reality.
While its potential for enlightenment, creativity, and freedom of expression is boundless, the internet holds many dangers for its youngest explorers. We touch on five of the most common and serious ones and offer tips to parents & guardians on how to overcome them.
1. It Can Be a Hurtful Place
Most interactions your child has online are likely to be fun, inspiring, or educational. Sadly, you can’t always protect them from harm even if you carefully curate their online environment. Cyberbullying is a major concern that only escalated thanks to lockdowns. Predators are rarer but more dangerous since they will try to exploit impressionable children, expose them to sexual content, or take on their identity.
It’s important to identify, document, and report cyberbullies and predators if necessary. Reassure the child that it isn’t their fault and validate their feelings of hurt and sadness if they experience abuse online. Conversely, monitor their online behavior and talk it out if you sense they are turning into a bully.
2. Responsible Social Media Use
A whopping 95% of American teens have used at least one social media app, and two-thirds do so regularly. Social media platforms have become the norm for connecting with friends and embracing new ideas. They also make harassment and predation easier and can harm a child's self-worth and mental well-being.
Stress the importance of connecting only to people a child knows and trusts. It should never share personal information or agree to talk to, let alone meet with, strangers. Have them set up private accounts and use parental monitoring tools to keep track of their activities.
3. Secure Browsing
The best way to set your tyke up for a positive online experience is to have them practice the basics of cybersecurity. The internet is full of inappropriate or disturbing content one can stumble upon accidentally. Teach your child about safe search terms and set their browser up to block & filter inappropriate content.
Kids should be aware of some security precautions once they're old enough to have email or game accounts. For example, they should use unique passwords for each new account. One or two might be easy to remember. As their online presence expands, kids may need a password manager to juggle the load and prevent them from forming bad password habits.
Older or tech-savvy children and teens should also use two-factor authentication and ensure their apps and operating systems are up to date.
4. Sometimes It’s Too Good to Be True
The internet makes it easier than ever to get scammed. Many of these scams target kids who don’t know any better. The scammers tempt them with prizes, unbelievable deals on popular products, or chances to become the next big superstar.
Sometimes they’ll ask for money; other times they’ll collect personal information and sell it to criminals. Some may even impersonate friends or celebrities to gain their trust. This mostly happens on social media, but children can also be targets of phishing attacks.
Make your children aware of online scams and have them check with you before giving out their information to anyone.
5. Using the Internet Creates a Digital Footprint
A digital footprint is the sum of all our traceable online activities. You leave an active footprint behind each time you comment or share something on social media, for example. Passive footprints are sneakier since sites generate them when you access them. Cookies are a good example. Marketers use them to categorize people based on age & habits and show them targeted ads.
Your children's online and real-life etiquette should be similar. Teach them to treat others with the same respect and courtesy they expect. Let them highlight their accomplishments while avoiding posting sensitive or embarrassing content they could regret one day. Take care of children’s safety and privacy by educating them about online reality and possible threats. Then, by preparing for the worst, you can definitely expect the best.