Computers and smart phones have become increasingly prevalent in recent years, with research showing that 84% of United States households own a computer and 64% of Americans owning cell phones. While not all children have their own computer or phone, many have at least some access to one. The internet can be a positive place for children to learn and talk with friends, but there are many dangers involved if proper precautions are not taken.
Perhaps the most imposing and well-known threats to children’s safety are online predators. These predators are usually strangers using online profiles and chats to communicate with children who will respond to them and, in some cases, attempt to meet with a child in person. They put children at risk by exposing them to sexual material and abuse.
Another risk to children online is cyberbullying. A cyberbully is usually someone that a child knows, such as a classmate, who uses the internet to attack or make fun of others. Cyberbullying is most likely to occur on social media websites, such as Facebook, where images and messages can be shared easily.
There is also a chance that a child could be exposed to something harmful inadvertently. Simply misspelling a word while making a search could return content that is inappropriate, and certain websites may have inappropriate material that can be accessed without proof of age.
One risk that may not seem as immediately obvious is identity theft. Children can use the internet to create individual profiles on websites or play online games, and these sites sometimes require personal information or even a credit card number before giving a user access. Some online predators may attempt to solicit personal information from a child as well.
The best way to keep children safe online is through awareness. Both parents and children need to know about the risks involved with using the internet. Parents should be mindful of what their children are doing while on the internet, and talking to them about the dangers could help them understand why they cannot do certain things online.
Communication is another important tool for online safety. Parents should talk to their children about the time they spend on the internet, and something as simple as asking about their favorite websites can be an effective way for parents to learn about what their children do while online.
There are also effective tools online for teaching children about internet safety. The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children has created NetSmartzKids, an interactive website that provides age-appropriate tools that help teach children how to be safer online. Such sites are tools that children can use to learn in a way tailored to them.
Other methods for protection include moving the computer to an open area in the house, setting up child-locks and parental controls to block inappropriate content, and checking the child’s online accounts and email.
The level of internet access that children have today creates a number of safety concerns. Without the proper precautions, children can be exposed to an incredible amount of inappropriate material or dangerous situations. Of course, even being careful is not always enough, as a predator may trick a child or the child may accidentally come across something inappropriate. Still, awareness and communication are the most effective ways to keep children safe online.
About the Author: Edward Allen is a personal injury attorney at the Allen Law Firm, where he serves as the managing partner of the Fredericksburg office. He has more than 25 years of experience handling a variety of cases including car accidents, truck accidents, traumatic brain injuries, and premises liability. He has been named a Virginia Super Lawyer since 2011 and has been listed in Best Lawyers of America since 2010.