Grandparents, parents and carers; we all care about our children. It’s natural, instinctive and often times a source of anxiety as the wee imps grow and begin exploring their surroundings. But nature must have its way. Children’s innocence however, also makes them naïve which is why the Internet can be a potential minefield. It’s a great source of education and learning but just like real life there are dark corners and hidden shadows.
Below we outline the main threats children can be exposed to and then offer suggestions as to how the kids can be safeguarded.
It’s often not easy to spot an online scam or hoax unless you’re experienced. For instance, the little ones might turn on to Peppa Pig or Dora the Explorer on YouTube. But sometimes if you look closer you’ll find adult themes, with dubbed soundtracks over the original content. Postman Pat is a favourite among the dubbers and the language is definitely not for small ears. This type of masked content is not that uncommon and can be disturbing for small children so it’s always a good idea to do a discreet quick double check when they are watching kiddie content.
Kids love to use social media and the Internet to connect and share with their friends. But it’s easy for them to miss the fact that there are more strangers online than friends. It’s important to help them understand that anything they post online, even in the most private way, could come back later to haunt them especially things that ‘strangers’ influence them to share.
Online predators won’t come as a surprise. These seriously dodgy people use many different avenues to get to kids including apps. Kids often use apps to send messages, share photos and socialise with their friends. Predators are masters at manipulation and will typically prey upon children’s naiveté and insecurities. ‘Caution’ and ‘education’ should be the watchwords; it’s important that children understand not everyone online is who they claim to be. Stranger danger’ is just as relevant online as it is in real life.
Access to pornographic and sexually explicit content is as easy as a few clicks. And kids can easily stumble upon it online whether they are looking for it or not. Children’s brains are still developing and forming core values and beliefs. Porn gives a skewed and negative view of sex and their bodies. Accidental exposure can also trigger curiosity, tempting kids to turn to Google or YouTube rather than their parents.
We may associate addictions with classic hard drug users but this ‘illness’ can take many forms. Certainly people have received, and are receiving, treatment for Internet-based addictions such as compulsive gaming and online gambling. And many of these games and platforms are actually designed to hook a user in and keep them there. Video games for instance begin as a pastime but can start eating up more time as players try to beat top scores, hit new levels and unlock new achievements. Before you know what’s happened you’ve got a bug-eyed, pasty faced kid who has to be torn away from the computer.
Bullying has never been ok but online it is rife and can have serious consequences. Most kids will encounter it at some point given that social media and digital devices keep kids connected 24/7. When online, kids open themselves up to school friends, but also friends of friends and those who get a kick of stirring trouble. At school, adults can step in but online, kids are left to fend for themselves. It can be very disturbing for children and for those who are particularly vulnerable it can take them down a path that can lead to self-harm.
What can you do?
There are several steps parents, grandparents and carers can take to safeguard their children.
- Technology development moves so quickly it's easy to fall out of touch with the latest devices, apps and platforms. But you can stay in the loop by speaking to the kids. Ask them about the apps they use and the games they play, show interest and it will come back in spades. It’s helpful to check what the schools are teaching too, they have various ‘online awareness’ courses for children and are more than happy to help.
- It’s important to lay down clear boundaries around Internet use and screen time, device usage and social media accounts. It helps to set limits and even reinforces a child’s sense of security to know where the boundaries are. And even with privacy settings it’s always important to restrict the amount of personal information children are sharing online.
- Be open with the kids about the dangers of inappropriate content, strangers and cyber bullying. Explain that your number one priority is to keep them safe. Kids respond well to genuine interest and a conversational approach. The bottom line is if we don’t listen to our kids, they’ll find someone who will.
- Parental control software is also a powerful tool when used in conjunction with education and communication. It allows parents to discretely monitor what the children are doing online, block websites that are inappropriate and even use keywords to create filters so children don’t accidently stumble into something that is unsavoury.