This Article Discusses the Following:
- Definition of child safety online and its aspects, benefits, and risks
- People responsible for child safety online
- Warning signs of potential harm to child safety
- How to prevent harmful exposure online
- Roles of different parties in preventing harmful online exposure
- How to respond to harmful online exposure
- The legal landscape of child safety online
- Resources for promoting child safety online
- Community involvement in promoting child safety online
- Impact of new technologies on child safety online
Rapid technological advancement has made it necessary to discuss child safety online. Despite being a hive of information and endless possibilities, the internet can be dangerous for teenagers with unfettered access. A recent survey established that at least 54% of children get exposed to inappropriate online adult content before their thirteenth birthday, which should be a major cause of concern for parents. Key Healthcare shares expert suggestions on preventing and responding to harmful online exposure to help you keep your children safe as they explore the internet.
Introduction to Child Safety Online
Parents must understand the nature of potential internet risks to protect teens’ online safety and take steps to avoid them. Since most children cannot protect themselves online, parents have to step in. Child safety online can therefore be defined as protecting children from common internet threats such as online grooming, inappropriate content, and cyberbullying for an enriching digital life.
Reasons Why We Need Safe Online Enviroment For Teens
Here are a few reasons why we need to make the Internet safe for children:
- Teens are more vulnerable to online threats such as sexual exploitation, grooming, and cyberbullying
- Online harm can cause long-term effects on adolescent psychological, physical, and emotional health.
- Young adults should benefit from the internet without worrying about its threats. They should freely access different educational resources and make positive online contributions for well-rounded development.
- It promotes digital literacy when children learn about responsible online behavior, safety, and privacy.
- Teens can learn and possess current trending skills, tools, and knowledge available online only with safe internet usage.
How Child Online Safety Differs from Offline Safety
We all want our children to be safe, both online and offline. However, parents should note the following key differences between the two types of safety makes it even more critical for parents to continuously educate themselves about potential online risks compared to offline ones
- Online activities leave a permanent digital footprint and can affect your child’s privacy (if they share personal information) and future reputation.
- Children can access loads of information on the internet (especially harmful ones) that is impossible to access offline.
- Online services and platforms guarantee anonymity, allowing people with malicious intent to disguise their identity and easily reach young children
- It can be relatively difficult for parents to monitor their children’s online activities instead of physical ones, as the internet can be accessed using different devices and from various locations.
- Online strangers are more likely to pose harmful risks than offline strangers
Benefits of Child Safety Online
Upholding child protection online keeps children from inappropriate or potentially harmful online activities and content and allows them to make the most out of their online experience. It also keeps common internet risks such as predators and pornography at bay so teens can grow into confident, lively, and happy adults. Additionally, online child protection can prevent cases of identity theft and privacy invasion which can negatively affect children’s future and well-being. Other benefits include:
- It promotes safe online relationships
- It prevents cyberbullying
- It leads to healthy emotional well-being
- It improves privacy and data protection
- It enhances parental involvement
Aspects of Child Safety Online
To keep children safe online, it’s important to consider and address aspects such as privacy and data protection, content filtering, cyberbullying prevention, digital footprint management, social media usage, online grooming and predators, online sexual exploitation, sexting, online gaming safety, digital literacy, parental supervision, and digital critical thinking.
Parties Responsible To Ensure Child Safety Online
As we will see later in this article, common parties responsible for upholding online child safety include parents, online service providers, and educators.
Potential Risks to Child Safety Online
Child safety threats include cyberbullying, online predators, and exposure to inappropriate content.
Online predators generally lure teens into sexual conversations and sometimes physical meetings. They aim to exert control over them, may send obscene pictures/ videos, and solicit the same in return. Most of the time, the relationship transforms from emotionally dependent to emotionally abusive or controlling.
Parents should look out for the following tell-tale signs of online grooming:
- Mood swings in teenagers such as anger, anxiety, and sadness
- Avoidance of friends and family
- Secret usage of devices
- Refusal to talk about online activity
- Problems at learning institutions
- Inappropriate sexual language or behavior
- Giving up previously-enjoyed activities
Cyberbullying involves sending, sharing, or posting false, harmful, or mean content, personal or private, about someone to humiliate or embarrass them. It is estimated that at least 59% of teenagers have been bullied or harassed online. Common effects of cyberbullying include increased teen anxiety, stress, poor school performance, low attendance, feelings of isolation/ fear, and in some cases,
suicidal ideation in teens.
Look out for the following signs if you suspect your child is being cyberbullied:
- Signs of teen depression/sadness
- Withdrawal from friends or family
- Unexplained decline in academic performance
- Refusal to participate in previously enjoyed activities
- Increased anger, sadness, or anxiety following online activity
- Refusal to go to school
- Sudden unexplained withdrawal from social media
- Reduced communication
Exposure to Inappropriate Content
Uncontrolled internet access and usage can expose young adults to images or information directed at adults or capable of upsetting/ pushing them into trying dangerous or unlawful behavior. Here are common examples of inappropriate content:
- Sexually explicit content
- Content promoting unsafe behaviors, e.g., suicide and self-harm
- Real/simulated violence
- Content promoting different types of extremism, e.g., religious
- Content advocating for religious or racial hate
Children exposed to inappropriate content are likely to show the following signs:
- Teenage internet addiction
- Excessive screen time, especially at night
- Deleted browser history
- Secret device usage to prevent parental checks
- Withdrawal from friends, family, and previously enjoyed activities/hobbies.
How Children Get Exposed to Online Risks
Children are mostly exposed to online risks through:
- Social media use- Social media addiction in teens may increase chances of cyberbullying, privacy invasion, identity theft, and exposure to inappropriate content
- Online gaming- Puts children at risk of identity theft, cyberbullying, online sexual exploitation, and credit card fraud.
- Live video streaming- Makes children vulnerable to age-inappropriate content, offensive language, and violent materials.
What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Children
Parents can protect their children through parental controls, monitoring their online activity, and having the right conversations on online safety.
Parental controls help parents block their children from accessing inappropriate or upsetting online content. They can be grouped into the following categories:
- Content filtration controls- Limit children’s access to inappropriate or age-restricted content
- Usage Control- Allows parents to block certain applications or incorporate usage time limits
- Monitoring controls- Let parents know where their children are and the applications they are using
- Computer usage management tools- Forces children to use specific safety-enabled software
These controls can be set on search engines, game consoles, apps, online services, mobiles, tablets, and computers.
Monitoring Child’s Online Activity
Here are some of the ways to monitor your child’s online activities:
- Setting up social media/online accounts and checking their pages and activities. You can also inform them that you monitor their activities to keep them safe.
- Knowing your child’s accounts passwords and checking their activity (however, this may upset some teenagers as it can be considered an invasion of privacy)
- Keeping devices such as tablets and computers in common areas where you can watch your child as they use them
- Expressing interest in your child’s online life. Remember to ask questions too.
- Showing genuine interest in the people they meet online and asking questions
- Using parental control programs or apps to monitor their online conversations or the visited online sites.
Having Conversations about Online Safety with Children
It would be best to remind your child that online and offline lives are different and that some things they post or share may turn up later, harming their reputation. Let them know that it’s important to keep their online friendships in the online world and that if they have to meet an online friend, it has to be in a public place accompanied by a trusted adult. Additionally, talk to your child about finding healthy and safe relationships offline since some teenagers turn to dating sites for sexual partners and dates.
What Parents Should Do When Their Child Has Been Harmed Online
You should seek legal action, find the right support services, and help your child cope with the aftermath if they are a victim of harmful online exposure.
Possible Legal Actions
Contact the police, your child’s designated safeguarding lead, or social care to report online child harm. For online sexual harm, consider calling 1-800-843-5678 or using the electronic Cyber Tip Line. Save any messages or obscene images (to serve as evidence) and desist from online communication with the offender.
Available Support Services
Here are a few support services to guide you on how to deal with such an event:
Helping Your Teen Cope with the Aftermath of Harmful Online Exposure
Exposure to harmful online content such as pornography may traumatize teens and even negatively affect their cognitive development. Even though you may be scared or angry, try as much as possible to be in the right headspace to help your teen cope with the aftermath. Here are a few tips that can help:
- Act/stay calm
Your adolescent will look to you for reassurance after such an event; therefore, do not reveal your anxiety to them. Mind your actions and tone, as children can easily notice signs of anxiety.
- Make them feel secure.
Depending on their age, you can use hugs, extra cuddling, or a reassuring pat to make them feel safe.
- Do not change routines
Reassure your teen that life will return to normal by sticking to regular meal times, bedtimes, and family rules despite the chaos.
- Help them find a distraction, e.g., encouraging them to play with their friends
- Acknowledge what they are feeling
- Prevent or limit exposure to the internet
- Find a good time to talk about the event.
You can also contact us at Key Healthcare. We have a professional team of mental health experts to help your child overcome such a traumatic experience. We administer various teen therapies (such as mindfulness-based therapy) and teach coping skills to help children overcome traumatic events.
Community Involvement in Promoting Child Safety Online
Everyone, including the community, plays a role in upholding children’s online safety. To help keep your child safe, consider attending community education and awareness promotion events, partnering with local organizations for safety and awareness promotion, and lobbying for policy changes by participating in advocacy efforts.
The Legal Landscape of Child Safety Online
Several jurisdictions, such as the United States, are committed to keeping children safe as they navigate the internet. Let’s discuss the existing laws, proposed regulations, potential future changes, and how advocacy shapes child safety online policies.
Existing Laws and Regulations Around Child Safety Online
- Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA)
COPPA protects children under age 13 by giving parents control over the type of information collected by website operators and online services. Its requirements take into account the internet’s dynamic nature.
- Children’s Internet Protection Act
Enacted by the US Congress in 2000, the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) addresses access to obscene or harmful online content concerns among children. Schools and libraries must certify that their internet safety policies have technology protection measures to block or filter minors’ access to obscene, pornographic, or harmful online content.
- The Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) and the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA)
FOSTA-SESTA was framed to counter online sex trafficking, including child sex trafficking, by allowing the prosecution of platforms guilty of such acts.
Proposed Legislation and Potential Future Changes
On May 2, 2023, Senators Richard Blumenthal and Marsha Blackburn introduced the bipartisan Kids Online Safety Act of 2023 to Congress, a proposed legislation that requires social media companies to make their platforms safer and offer parents advanced tools to uphold their children’s online safety. The Social Media Child Protection Bill, which requires social media platform providers to prohibit access to children under 16 years, was also introduced in early 2023.
Owing to the above proposals, we may witness an increase in the minimum social media age, which currently stands at 13 for most sites. The onus of making the internet safe for kids, which to some extent lies on parents and educators, is also likely to shift to social media companies.
The Role of Advocacy in Shaping Policy Around Child Safety Online
- It draws awareness to child-specific online risks and the need for protective measures.
- The relevant advocacy groups offer research, evidence, and expert opinions to influence policymakers into passing effective online protection policies for children.
- Most advocacy groups advocate for stronger penalties and regulations for online child offenders
- It promotes cooperation in establishing regional and international child safety online guidelines and standards.
- Advocacy groups monitor policy implementation to ensure accountability and check for necessary improvements.
Resources for Promoting Child Safety Online
Here are a few links to the relevant organizations, projects, and support networks dedicated to promoting children’s online safety:
Parents should also consider the following educational materials:
Artificial Intelligence and the Potential for New Forms of Harm
AI has been a hotly debated topic in the recent past. Despite its advantages, it can harm children in the following ways:
- Online predators can use AI-powered virtual personas and chatbots to groom children
- Children may be accidentally exposed to harmful/inappropriate content by AI algorithms.
- Artificial intelligence can be used to manipulate online discussions to intimidate/harass children and generate harmful children-specific content.
- AI-powered virtual assistants and recommendation systems may expose children to misleading or harmful advice.
- Advertisers can use AI algorithms to profile children and manipulate their online behavior without their knowledge or understanding.
Virtual Reality and the Potential for Immersive Harm
- Online predators can use VR environments to exploit or groom children.
- Children may be exposed to explicit content in VR platforms and applications, negatively impacting their development and well-being
- Children can be subjected to threats, verbal abuse, and harmful behavior in VR communities
The above potential harms make ongoing education and awareness of new technologies even more necessary.
Every parent should proactively safeguard their child’s online safety. Online grooming has been on the rise lately, perpetrated by predators preying on children’s innocence. Find time to educate yourself on potential risks, set parental controls and monitor your teenager’s internet activity to prevent access to harmful content. It also helps to create a safe and secure home environment that fosters communication around internet safety. Strive to make the internet a safe place for your kids and allow them to have a positive and productive online experience.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What are the Risks of Not Ensuring Child Safety Online?
Failure to ensure child safety online can lead to exposure to inappropriate content, privacy invasion, cyberbullying, online predators, grooming, online addiction, sexting, reputation damage, non-consensual sharing, and poor digital literacy.
What are Some of the Red Flags to Look Out for When Monitoring Online Activities?
Signs that your child may be engaging in unsafe online activities or accessing inappropriate content in their regular internet usage include pornographic content, empty browser history, sexualized search results, use of sexual language in chats, and sharing personal or private information.
How Can Parents Set Healthy Boundaries Around Screen Time?
You can healthily set screen-time boundaries by encouraging other activities, setting time limits, setting a good example, setting up screens in easy-to-monitor areas, regularly monitoring screen usage, and ensuring children do not obsess over one screen.
What are Some of the Common Child Safety Online Misconceptions?
Here are some of the false beliefs people have regarding child online safety:
- Parents only need filters to keep their children safe online
- Well-behaved children do not seek inappropriate online content
- A huge percentage of kids behave poorly online
- Smart children cannot be affected by common internet threats such as predators
What is the Impact of Harmful Exposure On Child Development?
Harmful internet exposure can negatively impact a child’s developing social skills, ability to focus, and relationships. Long-term exposure can lead to violent, shy, withdrawn, or socially awkward children.
What Can Be Done to Prevent Cyberbullying in Schools?
Here are a few ways schools can prevent cyberbullying:
- Promoting a culture of tolerance, mutual respect, and diversity appreciation
- Reminding students about the legal repercussions of cyberbullying
- Educating students about the potential negative effects of cyberbullying
- Banning cyberbullying or attaching harsh penalties to it, such as suspension or expulsion
How Can Parents Protect Their Children’s Personal Information Online?
Parents can protect their children’s personal information online by using parental controls (for social media sites, online games, applications, and social media), adjusting privacy settings, and educating children on the dangers of sharing personal information, videos, or photos online.