The internet is a source of entertainment and education without equal in human history and the modern child is privileged to be able to access it at the click of a button or tap on the screen. That said like anything else in life the internet can also pose a number of dangers. In this article, we’ll explore the importance of internet safety for kids.
It is widely-appreciated that the internet can be a means by which a child can be harmed. But less widely-appreciated is one of the most common sources of this harm: other children. Perhaps the greatest threat to a child on the internet is other children.
While social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have anti-harassment policies in place, these policies alone cannot hope to protect children from one another. It is therefore important that children feel that they can talk to someone if they feel unsafe online. Parents should therefore candidly broach the topic with their children.
For a long time bullying was a fact of life. Children were expected to cause each other misery – it was seen as normal, if not beneficial to the building of a child’s future character. It was only in the latter half of the 20th century that this behaviour came to be regarded as problematic and measures were devised to combat it. For the most part, these measures are just as applicable in the online world as they are in real life.
When we think of bullying, we tend to imagine a child getting pushed against a locker by a bigger child. But the majority of bullying is more subtle – owing in part to fact that physical injury is a great deal easier to spot than emotional damage. Psychological bullying is therefore preferred by bullies of both genders (though in general boys are more inclined toward physical violence and girls toward gossip and ostracism).
Social networks provide a means through which children can torment one another, sometimes anonymously. They allow for social success to be quantified in terms of ‘likes’, retweets and numbers of friends. While adults might consider such things trivial, to children they can be a life-consuming measure of social worth.
Unfortunately, these measures can be easily circumvented by a little subterfuge on the part of the child. Since no proof of age is required to join, children can easily just claim that they are thirty-three and sign up without suffering the slightest inconvenience. It is important, therefore, that parents monitor their child’s surfing habits and speak to them if you feel they are signing up to sites which they shouldn’t.
There was a time when children yearned to have televisions in their rooms. Now YouTube provides almost everything a child could want to watch – and they don’t even have to worry about digital TV reception just wireless signal or 3G/4G.
Leaving bullying to one side, social networks can also harm children by exposing them to images and video which is inappropriate for them. Most social networks rely on a system whereby users flag images that violate the terms and services. The problem with this is that, until they are flagged, these images will remain on the site for all to see.
The strictness of these terms are often vague and leave room for interpretation. Facebook in particular is harsh on nudity – particularly female nudity – while being relatively tolerant of images of violence and dismemberment.
Twitter has long provided all sorts of unsavoury groups with a means to spread their ideas. A trend exemplified by the torrent of pro-Jihadi propaganda emerging from Syria and Iraq. As well as this, pornographers and other producers of adult material use social media to spread their product – and children can stumble upon it by purest accident.
‘Don’t talk to strangers’ is often one of the first pieces of advice parents give their children. In the real world, this advice is rarely necessary – the vast majority of strangers who might wish to talk to your child are perfectly harmless. On the internet, however, not many people seek out children with noble intentions. The advice therefore becomes essential.
In the eyes of most parents, the online sexual predator represents the most terrifying threat the internet could possibly pose. These concerns are understandable, for reasons which will be obvious to anyone with children.
Fortunately, such individuals are extremely rare. Nevertheless, it is vitally important that parents impress upon their children a few principles of internet safety, which are, broadly speaking: to never talk to strangers, to never accept friend requests from strangers, to never, ever agree to meet strangers – even if they claim to be perfectly benign – and to talk to their parents if anything they see on the internet should bother them.