Security has been a priority for human beings since the beginning of time and with the increasing significance of the virtual world, online safety is something that now needs to be addressed. There is no doubt that the internet brings with it a lot of good but the reality is, without control, it can also bring serious harm.
It is important for parents to warn their children about the risks involved in browsing the Internet and the use of social networks. Knowing what can happen will help to keep them alert.
Children increasingly have access to new technologies (and now even younger children are using technology) as phones, tablets, and computers are being utilised for educational or entertainment purposes. However, leaving your child with a tablet or a smartphone without supervision could be very dangerous. You may think that your child is playing on an application or is watching cartoons but, due to ignorance or curiosity, they may end up seeing content that is not suitable for them.
Are you concerned about some of the dangers that the internet presents for your children? Do you want to know what you should do to prevent any dangerous situation related to your children and the internet? If so, keep reading.
The Risks Of The Internet
Since the moment you find out that you are going to become a parent, the safety of your child becomes top priority. They are your most valued treasure, so it is logical for you to want to teach your children everything that could keep them safe from potential dangers. Some common examples include:
- To not talk to strangers
- To be careful when they play to avoid getting hurt
- To watch only child-friendly shows on TV
- With the internet being such a big part of our lives, E-Safety has now crept onto this list of priorities as it is an increasingly important aspect of child safety. These days your children’s access to the internet is almost unavoidable. It’s not something that they only use for entertainment purposes, they also use it for educational purposes.
Your children can find everything they need online:
- Teaching Programs
- All kinds of videos and images
- Information about every subject imaginable
You name it, and the internet has it. This unfortunately means that not everything is positive when we talk about the vast world of the internet. It has cons too:
Therefore, it is important to educate ourselves about the dangers that the internet represents for our children.
The Silent Danger Of Cyberbullying
Cyberbullying is the technological evolution of harassment towards others.
Contrary to what one might think, this new form of harassment is not exclusive to minors. Many people, especially women, have gone through different types of harassment, but this new tendency of doing it through the Internet has many variables that help make it even more outrageous.
The advantage for these cyberbullies is the protection behind a screen or mobile device.
In some cases, the information that is shared through the internet helps generate this type of action, especially when negative emotions, preferences or political, sports and/or religious beliefs are spread. From there, a cyberbully takes the opportunity to make people uncomfortable through:
- The content of their social networks.
- Using recorded information to create situations of mockery or humiliation towards others, particularly aimed at:
- Their origins
- Their cultural preferences
- Their religious beliefs
These situations can weaken the self-esteem of any person, more so for a child who is in the process of acceptance in their environment.
The creation of rumours that affect the good image of the victim can cause:
- Personality Disorders
All of them have the potential to create violent acts full of resentment and cause a vicious circle.
Fake Profiles & Cyberbullying
The creation of false profiles is common. Especially in people seeking to do physical harm to these very susceptible children. Networks of paedophilia, pornography and child prostitution take advantage of the cybernetic world to reach their victims. For the most part, the victims do not report these acts out of fear of the threats the perpetrator makes.
These situations can weaken the self-esteem of any person, more so for a child who is in the process of acceptance in their environment.
If you don’t have good communication with your child, you won’t know if someone is bothering them.
They tell the victims that they will attack their parents or their family, or maybe that they will post their photos or videos on the internet for all to see. They will also be afraid of being punished for having entered a certain page or for accepting the invitation of a stranger. Especially if you have previously warned them of the risks. They know that they will most likely lose access to the internet and they do not want to stop being connected since all their friends are.
Signs of Cyberbullying To Look Out For
The warning signs for parents are significant changes in their children or preadolescents:
- They isolate themselves.
- They become depressed.
- They say things related to death.
- They begin to have different eating habits such as not wanting any food, poking around in the fridge at night, vomiting frequently, quickly losing weight or becoming obsessed with their weight.
- They have sudden changes in clothing.
- They do not want to talk.
- They stay longer than normal in the room.
- They become even more obsessed with being on the computer or mobile phone.
Cyberbullying – Two Sides of the Same Coin
In all situations, there are always two sides. In this case, we speak of a victim and a perpetrator, so, what should we do when we discover cyberbullying? Can your child be the harasser of another child?
Your Child As The Victim
If you discover that your child is a victim of these harassments, the first thing you must do is give him/her the confidence to tell you everything that is happening. And ask him/her why he/she thinks that this is happening .
You have to let them know that it is not their fault. That this should not affect their way of socializing or doing their daily activities. Also, teach them that it’s advisable to avoid responding to the provocations since reacting can encourage the harasser to continue with their mockery or humiliation. It is also necessary to document everything:
- Messages (text/social media)
- Images sent or circulating on the web
It is important to have those files as precedents. This will be helpful in order to inform the school – if the harasser comes from there – or the police in case your child is being harassed by an older person.
Your Child As The Harasser
If you discover that your son/daughter is the harasser, far from only punishing him/her, it is necessary to understand the reasons that motivate him/her to have these behaviours.
The pressure to be someone recognized in a social circle is not just a situation experienced by adults. Many adolescents, wanting to attract attention, perform reckless acts either with themselves or towards others. The reputation they earn, whether bad or good, is sufficient motivation. On the other hand, family problems always affect the behaviour of children even though they say they are well.
Grooming: The New Weapon Of Paedophiles
Grooming is a phenomenon of deception in which an adult, usually posing as a teenager, uses the internet to contact a minor with the aim of sexually abusing him or her.
Through the internet, it is easy to invent a character and make a teenager think that he/she is communicating with someone of their own age. Previously, the perpetrator has studied the profile of the victim on social networks, which makes it very easy for him to establish a relationship with the victims. For this, the perpetrators can create a false profile with photographs and attractive characteristics for minors. After a while, the perpetrator earns the victim’s trust through social networks. Later they try to seduce the child and try to get some intimate image or compromising information.
Grooming is a phenomenon of deception in which an adult, usually posing as a teenager, uses the internet to contact a minor (often a girl) with the aim of sexually abusing him or her.
This is how extortion begins in many cases. This process puts the victim into a vicious cycle that is very difficult to leave.
Once the aggressor has obtained it, he threatens to show his group of peers that image or information if their victim does not carry out the sexual behaviour he desires. In these cases, the adult establishes contact with the minor and does so in a deliberate and sustained manner over time. They do so through many means (mobile, computer, tablet, etc…) with the intention of establishing a relationship and emotional control over the minor in order to prepare the ground and sexually abuse him/her. Once again, this type of risk is due to the excessive confidence that children have in the use of new technologies and the low perception of risks.
Characteristics Of Grooming
- There is always deception from an adult towards a minor.
- The intention of the adult who contacts the minor is to obtain a relationship and emotional control to gain sexual satisfaction from his/her victim.
- This type of harassment occurs mostly with girls but it can also occur with boys.
- Technological devices are always used to carry out the grooming.
- Normally the aggressor does not seem to be in a hurry and gains the trust of his victim over time.
- The relationship between the harasser and the person being harassed ends in blackmail.
- The most common approach is that this element is obtained through some intimate and/or compromised image of the victim and/or email.
Risks Of Grooming
- Sexual Abuse: The ultimate goal of the aggressor is sexual satisfaction with his victim, who is a minor. Sexual abuse can cause very serious traumatic consequences for the victim.
- Loss of privacy: The victim always shares private information and compromising images with the perpetrator due to; blackmail or the false sense of security the perpetrator gave to the child (remember that the perpetrator always wins the victim’s trust).
- Sense of deception: By agreeing to the requests of a stranger, the child finds that he/she does not own what he/she is sharing.
- Blackmail: They are subjected to blackmail by the person who is extorting them to achieve their own ends.
- Pornography: Being immersed in the world of child pornography without having knowledge of it and all of the legal and psychological implications involved.
- Loss of self-esteem: The child feels humiliated and used and thinks that they have not been able to detect the use to which they have been subjected.
Grooming Prevention Methods
- If your child is an adolescent, openly explain grooming and the consequences of falling into this type of manipulation and deception. Use some examples for this.
- Talk to your child about sexuality. Avoid making this issue a family taboo. In this way, you will encourage them to talk to you when they have a problem regarding sex.
- Teach them to respect their own sexuality and nurture the concept of intimacy linked to the worth of the person. “Nobody has any right to force you to do anything you do not want to do.”
- Point out to them the importance of not believing that they can handle everything about the new technologies. Although your children are “experts” in the use of these devices, their age makes them vulnerable to the bad intentions of strangers.
- They should be aware that they should never provide anyone, through the Internet, images or compromising information, no matter how much confidence they have with the possible recipient.
- It’s very important that your child does not spend time isolated in a room using the computer. The best place for a computer is where parents can supervise their children while they use it.
- It’s important that your children’s computer doesn’t have a Webcam or if it does, that it’s covered with a sticker. This is a way to protect the privacy of your children.
- Teach them that they should never give in to blackmail and that they should ask for help. Having the support of an adult from a trusted environment is important in this situation. That is why it’s important to cultivate a close relationship with your children so that they feel they can approach you if any problems arise.
- It’s important to file a complaint with the State Security Forces. They have specific units to fight against this type of crime.
- It’s important not to erase or eliminate conversations, messages, and images, and even make screen captures, which serve as evidence of the events that occurred, regardless of whether the harassment has or has not been remitted.
Children & Social Networks
The use of social networks amongst children is a very controversial topic. There are several experts that are against children using these kind of platforms. In fact, there are studies like the one published by the University of Sheffield, in which it’s revealed that children who spend more hours connected to social networks feel more unhappy in most aspects of their lives. This same study points out that the more time children spend on social networks, the more likely they are to be victims of bullying, as the risks multiply in this environment. In spite of everything, the reality is that sooner or later, our children will be using a social network. In Europe, 12% of children between 9 and 10 years old already have a profile on a social network. And this percentage grows exponentially with age, as more than 75% of children between 13 and 14 years old are on a social network.
Parental Supervision: The Increasing Need for E-Safety
Make your child understand that parents have to supervise how they navigate the internet.
As secure as a social network may seem, it is imperative that you monitor what your children do online. Therefore, it is necessary to sensitize your children as soon as possible and teach them that you, as a parent, have an obligation to know what they are doing on the internet.
“It’s important to clarify that you should not spy on children. It’s much more advisable to show them that we trust them while surfing the internet, but at the same time, we must make them understand that parents have to supervise how they navigate. We must base ourselves on a relationship of trust and continuous verification”, highlights Hervé Lambert, Global Retail Product Manager of Panda Security, a Spanish company specialized in E-safety.
Children are ‘Digital Natives’
Parents need to know how to set security preferences on social networks
Often, children have Internet knowledge far superior to that of their parents simply because they are digital natives, they were born in this technological world. In this sense, it’s common to find among the profiles of social networks of some children, that known adults (such as their parents or other older relatives) don’t have access to the information they share, but at the same time, all their posts are visible to everyone else. Again, the solution to this problem is the fluidity of the relationship with your children. It’s all about communication. But, at the same time, you have to make an effort to understand the functioning of these social networks.
“Just like the old parents knew from their experience that you should not go to one neighborhood or another in a city, now you have to know how security preferences should be in social networks,” adds the Global Retail Product Manager of Panda Security.
Sexting & Revenge Porn
It is essential that parents maintain a fluid dialogue on these issues
According to a report by the American Medical Association, sexting has become common among adolescents and young people, to the point that 4 out of 10 of them have published on social networks or sent a message with sexual content. In this, they were the protagonists.
“It’s of vital importance to make them understand that this type of content should never be shared in a social network since sooner or later, they will end up taking their toll”, warns Hervé Lambert.
On The Internet Everything Is ‘Forever’
The social networks, with their ephemeral content such as the Snapchat or Instagram stories, make many children and teenagers think that what they share disappears from the Internet once they are no longer visible. However, there are two truths that they ignore:
- All of that information is stored on a server that could be accessed by a hacker who manages to violate their security.
- Phones and computers allow screen captures very easily, either in the form of photos or video.
5 Top Tips Parents Should Follow
Parents can monitor the safety of their children on the Internet by putting some simple tips into practice:
- Parental control: parental filters are tools that can be installed on computers to control which pages your child navigates.
- Monitor their online browsing: you may not be able to stay all the time looking at the pages they are browsing, but you can check later which sites and pages they visited.
- Education is the best Internet filter: teach them not to publish personal data, not to trust strangers on the Internet and to tell you if they experience harassing behaviour on the Internet.
- Do not let them participate in online chats or conversations with other people, even if they think that they are speaking to people of their own age.
- Beware of spam, applications, and files: teach them not to trust the links or files that they are asked to download, not to trust any application that catches their attention and not to trust any advertising that promises gifts.
Extra Resources – Further Reading
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