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Where Danger Lurks: Keeping Kids Safe Online

The world is a more dangerous place for kids than ever before in history. Here is how to keep your kids safe online.  

Keeping Kids Safe Online

Kids spend an average of nine hours a day online, using social media, playing games, engaging in chat rooms, looking at videos, and generally browsing the web. While the Internet can be educational and informative, it is also where danger lurks.

Not speaking to strangers used to be a standard, basic instruction that parents gave to their children. Now, however, parents are oblivious to the incessant online “chat,” which is simply a virtual version of talking to strangers. There are many inherent dangers in giving kids unfettered access to the internet. Among the dangers is that kids will grow up too fast, be traumatized or confused by images they see and text they read, become a victim of bullying or some other crime, or be swayed to think in a way that is dangerous to their well-being. Following are some examples, and how parents can keep kids safe online.

Traumatized by Images and Text

Young kids who are given tablets, phones, and laptops to “play” with while the parent is busy are easily traumatized by images and text encountered on the internet. Simple and innocent sounding keyword searches that a child might enter can quickly bring up raunchy material that is sometimes purposely formatted to come up in a minor’s online search. There are people who get a thrill out of posting unseemly images and formatting them with kid’s cartoon character names, for example.

Preventing young kids from being traumatized by such images and text is as simple as keeping devices out of the hands of youngsters. There are plenty of electronic toys available that don’t include internet access to kids under a certain age. Bear in mind that phones, tablets, and laptops are not toys.

Grooming by Pedophiles

As with any hunter, pedophiles hang out where their prey is, and kids are the prey of pedophiles. That means that pedophiles hang out in kid’s chat rooms and they set up user accounts on kid’s online games like Minecraft and Roblox. An online gaming environment allows other users to comment as they play. Public comments are visible by everyone, and it’s easy for a child to become a target of a pedophile during game play. Once the target is identified, the pedophile uses sophisticated techniques to garner trust, sympathy, and friendship. At that point, the pedophile may then suggest having a more private conversation that invariably leads to a sexual nature. Over time – and pedophiles are very patient – they can actually have a child consent to a sexual encounter, which is orchestrated by the pedophile.

The best and most effective way to prevent your child becoming a target like this is to deny the child access to online games where they play with other, real players. Your child will resist this, especially if their friends get to play online games, so it’s a good idea to form a parenting group where all parents in the community agree to restrict online gaming. There are lots of fun alternative games for kids to play that don’t involve real players, including some that have virtual players so it can feel like a live gaming experience – without the danger.

Being a Victim of Phishing

Not every internet criminal is after your child. They may use your child to obtain personal information they use for identity theft. Kids and teens are poor gatekeepers of personal information. Their young, innate sense of immortality also makes them feel like they are too smart for a scam like phishing. When it comes to personal information that can be used to obtain financial and identity records, kids simply can’t be trusted to keep it safe.

To prevent you or another family member from identity theft, it’s not enough to warn your kids. Kids hear the same news that we do. Repeating stories of kidnappings or people being taken advantage of online won’t work, because kids, like adults, never think it can happen to them. Instead, explain how hackers and “bad people” use the information we provide. For example, explain that many of the same questions that Facebook users divulge are the same as the “security” questions on a typical financial institution’s website. Your high school, favorite teacher, first pet’s name, maiden name, favorite sport or game; all are common knowledge to your Facebook friends. Agree on a fictitious set of answers and information for use in online situations. That way, if a scam artist does try to use those answers, they won’t work in a secure online environment, such as on a credit card application or bank website.

Becoming a Victim of Bullying

Online bullying is increasing. 52% of young people report that they’ve been bullied online. The actual figure is probably higher because kids are often embarrassed about being bullied. Bullying can lead to anxiety, poor academic performance, depression and can even have fatal consequences. Bullying usually happens on social media, but it can also take place on online gaming platforms.

Parents can’t prevent online bullying, but you can monitor your child’s online accounts. Insist on having usernames and passwords and check them frequently to ensure your child hasn’t changed them. Monitor online conversations to nip bullying in the bud. If bullying does occur, contact the relevant authorities. Since bullying is so prevalent, it is recommended to counsel your child about bullying, even if it hasn’t yet occurred. Maintain an environment of open communication with your child so they will feel free to share their concerns. Make time to listen, and above all, watch out for signs of bullying. These include a reluctance to go to school, loss of appetite, angry outbursts and a change in social behavior. If you notice anything suspicious, the first place you should look is on their social media accounts.

The world is a more dangerous place for kids than ever before in history. There is nothing standing in the way of a predator or hacker from harming your child, except you. For more information and help about ensuring your child’s safety online, please contact Alliance Technology Partners in Chesterfield at [email] or (314) 391-9888.

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