As we reported a few months ago, cyber crime is constantly on the increase, and with the ease of access to the Internet on all manner of devices, children are becoming more and more internet savvy through mobile devices, laptops and tablets.
While keeping you and your family safe from hacking and identify theft is one concern, the other is trying to stay on top of what your children have access to online, knowing when and how to step in, and what tools are at your disposal to do so.
What are the real dangers?
Currently it is estimated that around 95 percent of U.S. teens use the Internet, with around 47 percent accessing the Internet frequently throughout the day on smartphones.
These figures have continued to rise, and there seems to be no reason to expect otherwise in the future. This does, of course, raise the question of what teens and children are accessing during their time online. Generally, social networking sites are the most used feature, with Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking sites receiving the majority of Internet usage time.
Online gaming also is another factor to consider, with around 93 percent of U.S. teens having access to online games via consoles, computers or mobile devices. Initially then, it seems there is little to worry about, but there are very well-documented dangers present that can be deliberately sought out, or stumbled upon, by young Internet users. With the prevalence of social media use comes the risk of cyber bullying, with one in three teens reporting they have experienced harassment online.
A worrying aspect of this is that girls are much more likely to be the victims of Internet abuse. Additionally, there is the problem of sexual predators, and young boys questioning their sexuality are particularly at risk here. Visiting illegal and pornographic websites is another concern. A recently released study by Internet security provider Kaspersky found that social networking sites are significantly linked to pornography and can be a dangerous venue for children, and that American children lead this trend worldwide.
What you can do
While some of the above statistics are certainly shocking, as a parent you are not without the resources to safeguard your children from the more dangerous elements of the Internet. First of all, some of these issues can be avoided by making sure you have good communication with your children. If your son is questioning his sexuality, for example, it is much better to offer your support and keep an open dialogue about the issue, as often turning to the Internet is the first course of action for a child with nowhere else to find the information they want because of embarrassment or feelings of insecurity and so on.
Being open and honest about the dangers of the Internet can also be helpful, but watching for certain changes in behavior or tell-tale signs of potential problems is another approach recommended by the FBI. Recent studies have also found that many children and teens access the Internet from shared home computers, with 93 percent having access to a computer or laptop at home, and 73 percent saying that this computer is the one they most frequently access the Internet with.
As a result, you can keep an eye on what your children might be doing online by checking search and browsing histories, but also by limiting their time on the family computer if you are concerned. Internet service providers also offer an additional avenue of protection and monitoring. Most ISPs will allow you to enable blocking of certain sites, and this function can often be found in your web browser too.
It can certainly be worth your time finding out exactly what parental controls might be available from different providers, so you ensure you have the best protection possible for your family.
Remaining safe Ultimately, you can only monitor your children’s activities online so far, and the main battle is making sure that you know the intricacies of your computers and mobile devices. Generally, children pick up on technology use very quickly, and if you are not up-to-date yourself you will have a hard time keeping an eye or limiting their activities.
Many smartphones have parental controls on them as features, so making sure these are enabled is a good way to keep your children safe when they are not at home. That said, some issues cannot be dealt with simply by blocking access. Cyber bullying for example, much like sexual curiosity, will need to be dealt with by hands on, open and supportive parenting. While there are certainly dangers online, there is also a lot that your children can learn and enjoy, and Internet use is only likely to increase. Finding ways to deal with these issues as a family and through the use of technology will ensure that potential problems are kept to a minimum.