What are some dangers that youth may face on the internet?
Because children have not yet developed a full sense of judgement, they are more at risk for many types of dangers that adults would recognize before a problem arises. This essay examines the risks that youth (children under 18) may face on the internet, particularly on social media. Some such risks include cyberbullying, cyber-predators, and internet scams. In this essay, each risk will be explained, as well as examined for the level of concern that should be given to it. The conclusion of each risk discussion will include a proposed solution/mitigation technique to avoid potential dangers.
What Are the Dangers That Youth May Face on the Internet?
As children grow physically, they also grow mentally, developing cognitive skills such as deep thought processes, developing strategies, and decision making. These skills begin developing at a young age; children do not fully develop them until they are young adults, around 18-20 years old. This is only natural, though it places children more at risk than adults for some threats, especially those that require perception and reasoning to identify. While an adult may recognize danger long before it becomes an immediate threat and work to mitigate it, children typically will not recognize danger until it is far too late. Children have always and will always face many dangers as they grow. Modern children face danger in places that children 50 years ago never could have imagined: on the internet.
The most common internet danger is known as cyberbullying. Cyberbullying can be defined as “an aggressive, intentional act carried out by a group or individual, using electronic forms of contact, repeatedly and over time against a victim who cannot easily defend him of [sic] herself.” (Smith, Madhavi, Carvalho, & Tippet, 2006). In contrast to face-to-face bullying, cyberbullying only takes place through electronic forms of communications, such as social media posts. Cyberbullying is similar to face-to-face bullying in that its only purpose is to degrade the victim’s self-esteem using insults, rumors, or embarrassing pictures.
Cyberbullying has been shown to have profound effects on victims’ mental health. As with regular bullying victims, victims of cyberbullying “have been shown to experience higher levels of depression and anxiety and even increased suicidal ideation compared with those who are not involved.” (Kota & Selkie, 2018). Though cyberbullying itself doesn’t take place at school, the people involved typically go to the same school and may share some of the same classes, increasing levels of stress for the victims. Because of this, victims of cyberbullying “may avoid going to school, have trouble concentrating in class, or even drop out of school.” (Moreno, 2018). Additionally, because the bullying does not take place at school, parents/teachers most often are not in a position to witness the bullying, making it much more difficult for the victim to get help.
Cyberbullying can be prevented, both by parents and by schools. Since school is the most likely place for both the bullies and victims to be, teachers and administrators should be educated about the warning signs and harmful effects of cyberbullying. Additionally, “school district personnel should review their harassment and bullying policies to ensure that it allows for the discipline of students who engage in cyberbullying.” (Hinduja & Patchin, 2018). Covering the topic in disciplinary policies makes it well within a school’s legal jurisdiction to take action, whether or not the incident occurred on the school campus. The threat of punishment by the school will act as a discouragement towards any cyberbullies.
Families are a major part of children’s lives, making parents a crucial part of preventing cyberbullying. Since most children will not ask for help if they are being bullied, it is important that parents be able to “recognize the warning signs” of cyberbullying, for example, if their child begins to “display any sort of behavioral or emotional changes.” (HHS, 2017). If a parent suspects that their child is being cyberbullied, they must educate themselves on the nature of cyberbullying, and appropriate responses. Parents may want to speak with the administration of their child’s school, or possibly with the parents of the child who is bullying their child. There are many different ways to handle a situation such as this; a good site for more information, advice, and resources is www.stopbullying.gov, run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
A somewhat less common, although much more dangerous risk that children may face online are cyber-predators. Cyber-predators are defined as “adult online users who seek to exploit vulnerable children or adolescents for sexual or other abusive purposes.” (Nuccitelli, 2013). Cyber-predators are much harder to identify than cyberbullies, as they will often use a false name and profile. For example, a cyber-predator may create an online profile as a 15-year-old girl, when he is a 50-year-old male and a registered sex offender. It has become very common for children to make friends on social media who they have never met in real life. This makes it easier for cyber-predators to communicate with their victims, as most children see nothing unusual about online friendships.
Even if the cyber-predator does not pretend to be a child online, there is a process that almost all cyber-predators follow when they target a child. The relationship always begins online, most often through social media platforms, as the cyber-predator gains the victim’s trust by acting as a supportive friend. The cyber-predator will then “ask the teen to keep their relationship secret, and may try to drive a wedge between the young person and their family,” using flattery or gifts. (NCDOJ, n.d.). The cyber-predator will then try to “set up a face-to-face meeting somewhere away from parents and school.” (NCDOJ, n.d.). This meeting is an opportunity for the cyber-predator to victimize a child and to seduce them into “having sexual relations that are both harmful and illegal.” (NCDOJ, n.d.). Even worse, the meeting could lead to a kidnapping or even a murder.
There are methods for parents to protect their children from cyber-predators. First, they must realize that any child, no matter age or sex, can be at risk; additionally, they must teach their children about cyber-predators and the dangers of meeting people online. Parents should also talk with their children about their internet usage, such as what sites they like to visit. Aside from education, there are many physical measures that can be taken. If the child uses a family computer, placing the computer in an “open public area, such as the living room,” will reduce risks of children browsing unsafely in private. (ABA, n.d.). Parents can also install child-filters on the computer, “consider purchasing and using monitoring software,” or check the internet history on the computer. (ABA, n.d.).
Parents should watch for any warning signs present in their children, such as becoming “withdrawn from the family,” finding “pornography on [the] child’s computer,” or if the child receives “mail, gifts, or packages” from unknown sources. (ABA, n.d.). Any illegal activities, such as drug deals or pornography, should be immediately reported to the appropriate law enforcement agencies. Suspicious activities can also be reported to the CyberTipLine, (1-800-843-5768) operated by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Another risk faced by children on the internet is the possibility of falling for an online scam. Since children do not possess a fully developed sense of judgement, they are more likely to be tricked by scammers. Additionally, since children only have a few years of experience with computers, they have not yet learned to be wary of offers that seem too good to be true. Though most children will not fall for obvious scams, such as a Nigerian prince that wants to give them $5000 dollars if they reply to the email; they are more at risk of falling for scam contests and lotteries, especially if the prize coincides with their interests.
Internet scams can cause a person to lose their money, contract a computer virus, or even have their identity stolen. “Scammers are often organised, predatory criminals who gain trust to exploit people and steal money.” (AgeUK, 2016). The process used to gain trust, whether through fake messages or stories of previous winners, makes the scam more difficult to recognize. Most online scams will promise a product or an amount of money, however, they will then ask for fees to be paid before the prize can be claimed. Most people who believe the scam will pay the fees, losing their money, but never receiving a prize. Some scams are based only off of a web link, which is typically sent to the victim by email. The link contains “complex software such as keylogging viruses [that] are designed to record computer use and capture personal information, like bank account passwords, which are secretly sent to a host computer and can then be sold on for profit.” (Kerr, 2013). This leads to identity theft, in which the scammer will use the collected information to make unauthorized monetary charges to accounts while posing as their victim.
In order to prevent their children from being victimized by an online scam, parents must first make sure their computer is protected against malicious scams and viruses. Antivirus and Antispyware programs should be installed and kept current; however, “be careful of ads on the internet offering downloadable spyware. You should only install programs from a trusted source.” (USA.gov, 2018). Parents should then make sure that their children are familiar with basic scam-avoidance rules. They should be taught about the nature of scams and about the risks of disseminating personal information online to unknown sources. Not only will this protect children from scams and viruses, but the knowledge will assist them throughout their lives as they continue to use computer systems, whether for personal or business matters.
Children face numerous risks on the internet. The risks discussed in this essay by no means cover all of them, or even half of them for that matter. As technological systems continue to develop, new methods of avoiding internet risks develop as well, with advances in the capabilities of systems such as antivirus. However, methods for perpetrating risks, especially online scams develop as well, making risk avoidance nearly impossible. Additionally, some risks, such as cyberbullying, cannot be prevented through software updates. Though there is no foolproof risk prevention solution; education and precautionary measures drastically reduce the likelihood of children being harmed by online threats.
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