Any parent knows that while the internet is a wonderful tool, it also is fraught with danger. The same technology that keeps us connected to friends and family can be an avenue for predators to gain access to children, who too often don’t realize the risks.
A 2019 internet usage study, conducted by the Center for Cyber Safety and Education, revealed some startling — and disturbing — statistics. About 40 percent of kids in grades 4-8 reported having connected or chatted with a stranger online; of those 40 percent, 11 percent met a stranger at their own home, the stranger’s home, or in public, 6 percent revealed their home address and 30 percent texted a stranger from their phone. Despite this clear problem, one in two parents reportedly doesn’t use blocking or filtering software on their child’s devices.
Internet threats don’t always come in the form of a stranger — or an adult. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention research showed that 14.9 percent of high school students had been cyberbullied in the previous year. Where targeted children were once safe from harassment and abuse at home, now they are vulnerable anywhere they are online.
The best way to protect your child, experts say, is to be involved and hold them accountable for their internet activity. Talk to them about online safety and have clear guidelines and expectations.
SAFEKIDS.COM RECOMMENDS SETTING THE FOLLOWING RULES FOR YOUR CHILDREN:
I will never provide personal information without my parent’s permission, including my name, address or phone number or my parents’ work address and phone number.
I will tell my parents immediately if I come across something online that makes me feel uncomfortable.
I will not agree to meet someone I encountered online without first asking my parents. If my parents agree, the meeting will be in a public place and at least one of them will be present.
I will talk with my parents about posting pictures of myself or others online and not post any pictures my parents would deem inappropriate.
I will not respond to messages that are mean or make me feel uncomfortable. Getting a message like that is not my fault, and if I do, I will inform my parents right away.
I will talk with my parents so we can establish internet and phone rules, including when and how long I can be online and appropriate use.
I will not give out my passwords to anyone other than my parents.
I will not do anything online that is harmful to others or illegal.
Parents also should watch their children’s behavior for troubling signs, such as becoming withdrawn and spending more time on their devices than usual, being secretive about who they are talking to, unexplained changes in behavior after using their device and a lack of interest in activities that don’t involve the internet. For additional online safety resources, visit www.safekids.com, www.consumer.ftc.gov/topics/protecting-kids-online (Federal Trade Commission) and www2.ed.gov/free/features/cybersecurity.html (U.S. Department of Education).