The internet is such a part of our everyday lives now. In fact, we probably don’t even give it second thought. If you want the answer to something, just google it. How convenient!
Your children’s generation is the first to grow up with this advanced access. It’s no surprise if they know more about digital trends than we do, but parents have the duty to stay aware.
Children as young as 7 years old today have their own smartphones and about 90% say they’ve had access to the internet since the age of 9 or younger. How do we really know what our children are doing online?
Is Internet Safety An Issue?
A study from Rochester Institute Technology (RIT) with children from kindergarten to first grade reported that about 50% of parents are not by them when they’re using a computer—which means half of these parents don’t even know what their kids are up to. If you think about it, pornography, or any kind of sexual content, is so easy to find, it’s practically everywhere. A study from University of New Hampshire (UNH) showed that 79% of youth unwanted exposure to pornography occurs in the home, right under the parents’ noses.
According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), about 15% of children between ages 10 and 17 has had at least one person contact them with sexual intent. With over 750,000 of them online at any given moment, there is no doubt that a majority of these senders are online sexual predators. If you haven’t taught your children anything on internet safety, you might want to consider it after learning that “16 percent of teens considered meeting someone they’ve only talked to online and 8 percent have actually met someone they only knew online,” as the same UNH study revealed.
Why Cyber Bullying Shouldn’t Be Taken Lightly
It is important to teach children how to behave online, not only to refrain from befriending any strangers, but also how to treat others. Cyber bullying is a huge issue that has only grown exponentially since the rise of technology and online social media. To make matters worse, it’s starting as early as second grade.
The difference between bullying and cyber bullying is that the victim can never really get away from cyber bullying—it’s on all their social media apps on phones and computers and it’s in school. In fact, most of the attacks done online are from anonymous or fake profiles created by people they know, just constantly saying mean things or sharing embarrassing/private details about the victim. A McAfee research from 2008 discovered that 20% of teens admitted to having actively cyber bullied other people.
Cyber bullying can cause your child to behave in a different way they don’t normally behave, whether they are the ones instigating or the ones being attacked, just to be accepted and fit in with the crowd. The RIT study also found that cyber bullying “peaks in middle school, which is when online exchange of sex-related content begins.” The McAfee research also revealed that 34% of teen girls have given out photos or physical descriptions of themselves to strangers (15% of teen boys).
It’s Not That Innocent
Just the thought of some stranger out there having a photo of your teenage daughter should be enough to send chills down your spine. But imagine if they befriended this stranger, who is pretending to be a peer, and started to trust them. This trust could your children to reveal more personal information about themselves, depending on this person for a sense of security, and perhaps even meeting up in person. Online grooming is a serious threat from online sexual predators because it almost always leads to sexual offense. According to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), the online grooming cases they deal with have increased by almost 50%.
Why can’t your children just stop talking to these people? It sounds easy enough, right? However, because they have grown so dependent on these predators, they are more likely to do as they are told– including performing sexual acts on webcam or sending sexual images online. The NCMEC estimated 80 million child porn images were created in 2002. They are trapped by their new “friends” and they don’t know what to do.
Educating yourself and your children on the importance of internet safety couldn’t be any more important. Don’t take these online threats as something abstract that only happens “on the internet.” It’s never too early or too late to start teaching them about the proper way to behave online. If you don’t know where to start, start with our guide, where we share some online safety reminders for your child and tips on setting phone rules with them.