The world of the Internet is now well known by children from a young age. So are mobile devices and all types of technology, including laptops and tablets. Just hand a five-year-old a cell phone and they honestly need hardly any coaching on how to use it now. The typical child is introduced to technology from kindergarten on, whether inside the school or through knowledge gleaned from their friends and family members. Social media as well as gaming, becomes popular and attractive to children from an early age also.
Once a youngster enters their pre-teen years, or “tweens”, and their teenage years, the dangers from social media usage and gaming become more of a concern for parents, as although youngsters are very technically proficient, they are not particularly socially savvy and are still very trusting of others. The early and late teen years can bring a barrage of social media usage and gaming into a youngster’s life, as well as an inadvertent exposure to the dangerous individuals and behaviors that are way too common online. In studies done, at least 38 percent of children 5 years old to 15 years old go online to watch videos, play games, and chat with friends or people they meet online. Gaming usage generally also contains chat features for interactive play and therefore dangers exist with gaming too. Online usage dangers can extend to sites such as You Tube and other channels for streaming video watching.
Parental vigilance through the pre-teen and teenage phases of life is needed most of all.
Cyber criminal behavior is everywhere online, but especially prolific on any type of social media, in chat rooms, or in gaming sessions. Cyber criminals work on gaining a young person’s trust and do so quite easily since youngsters are naturally trusting and way too vulnerable. Predators range from actual child pornographers who sell explicit pictures and videos for money online, to “sextortionists” who will blackmail a youngster by threatening to publish explicit pictures that the youngster provided. The most-deadly predators online are child traffickers who will entice a child into meeting them or providing their address and personal information and then kidnap and sell them to trafficking rings.
Trafficking rings can range from child prostitution to child slave labor and these crimes have risen tremendously throughout the last decade according to the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation). Children kidnapped by traffickers are difficult to locate again and may be missing for years or even end up dying from the abuse that occurs. Even the most vigilant parent cannot possibly know if a cellphone or other type of technology device has been hacked thereby allowing cyber criminals access to a child’s personal information. Virtual streaming is not without risks either, as it allows adults to set up accounts and establish interpersonal relationships with children through these accounts. Unfortunately, youngsters now were brought up with technology and do trust media more than they should. Not only are they more trusting, but money sometimes is used as a bribe to entice children into sending photos or videos of themselves in compromising positions.
Not only can criminals target youngsters but other youngsters can also.
Cyberbullying is a common occurrence now especially among teens. This starts many times as a simple friendship in a group either an online group or even a bunch of offline friends. A youngster will inadvertently do or say something to anger the group and vengeful attacks and postings can occur online, through email and through messaging. These attacks usually include shaming and belittling of the victim and it can be done by a cyber criminal or what the child believed were their friends. It has a serious effect on emotional and psychological stability and can lead to severe depression in a child or even in the worst cases to suicide. Some individuals online are defined as trolls and seek out victims to shame and degrade as it simply gives them malicious gratification.
Trolling like all cyber crimes has increased especially in social media and gaming. Trolls seem to have no other motive for what they do except to cause pain and mental anguish to their victims, by repeated posting of embarrassing insults, or by directly messaging or emailing a child with the insults. Trolls can also target adults but are especially damaging to children as there is a lack of understanding of why this happens on the part of a child. They may take the demeaning remarks and posts to heart causing psychological trauma. Trolls understand what hurts a person the most and with children it is easier to find their weak spots thus inflicting true harm. There is no rhyme or reason to trolling behavior, but these are probably very lonely, desolate individuals who enjoy watching others suffer. Trolling is indeed a form of cyberbullying.
What CAN a parent do to protect their child from malicious individuals online in the end?
A parent cannot be everywhere all the time but there are measures that can be taken to minimize the risk online for their children.
- Know whom your child or teen is chatting with and who they are friends with online. Nuwber is a people search site with a huge database of USA citizens. Simply check a youngster’s phone each day and run the names that are found on social media or in messages through Nuwber to reveal where individuals appear online or if they are whom they say they are.
- Use blocking software to block internet access to whichever sites seem suspicious. Many types of monitoring and blocking software is now available to parents.
- Address issues with a youngster if they seem secretive or otherwise socially withdraw. Communication and trust are key.
- Have a long hard talk with each child you parent about online dangers. Knowledge is needed above all else to prevent risky behaviors.
All in all, it also can help to make sure a youngster has enough outside activities and is not spending too much time online. Online addictions do occur with children and teens and can have detrimental effects. Limiting the online time each day is a great preventative method for parents to consistently use in the fight to keep their child safe online.