If you are the parent or grandparent of a child or teen with access to the Internet, for fun or school, this article is for you.
It is no secret children of all ages can access anything on the Internet with the tap of their smartphone. This makes them vulnerable and presents worries for many parents.
In this article, we review risks children face on the Internet. We also provide 4 ways to protect a child on the Internet.
CHILDREN AND THE RISKS OF INTERNET USE
The worry with having a child on the Internet commonly revolves around what they may come across. With smartphone or tablet in hand, children of all ages have expansive access to inappropriate content. Equally worrisome is their unsupervised communication with strangers on social sites and in chat rooms.
EXPANSIVE ACCESS TO INAPPROPRIATE CONTENT
Foremost on a parent’s minds is what their child might see online. Without safeguards in place, minors have access to searching anything on the Internet and within social apps. They can read about salacious topics and watch videos that are so elicit or violent, they even make adults blush or cringe.
The tragedy is that children are exposed too soon to content that their precious minds are not ready for. Children cannot “unsee” some things.
Your child may not know of a topic to search. But their classmates are whispering and showing friends what they found online. If your child has a smartphone, they may even receive inappropriate content or images via text or social apps. Worse, some apps have disappearing content so you would never know what your child has sent or received.
Additionally, many parents do not realize that if their child sends or receives an inappropriate photo of any minor, whether of themselves or another child, they may face life-altering consequences, up to and including having to register as a sex offender, depending on the circumstances of the offense.
UNSUPERVISED COMMUNICATION WITH STRANGERS
The greater danger comes when online predators contact, groom, and eventually coerce children over social media and in chat rooms. These predators are master manipulators, seeking to exploit children. They may be posing as a child of similar age. They may be posing as an adult, way cooler than the child’s parent. Either way, the child has no idea what is happening and the dangerous situation they may be walking into.
Predators follow scripts proven to work from the moment of first contact with an innocent child. Their approach is to build trust and rapport quickly. They know what makes a child feel good. Eventually, they ask for or demand what they want.
In June 2023, CourtTV shared the story of 17-year-old Jordan, a boy who fell victim to a new type of online extortion. One night, Jordan connected with Dani on Instagram. She was a beautiful woman and they began chatting in the app. She showered him with compliments and made him feel amazing. The conversation became racy. She sent him an explicit photo of herself and urged him to do the same. He did and that is when their chat turned dark.
Immediately upon receiving Jordan’s explicit photo, Dani blackmailed him asking him to send $1,000. She threatened to share the photo with his entire contact list if he did not comply. She gave him evidence to prove she had the ability to follow through. Jordan paid her $300, which was all he had. She continued demanding the full amount and threatened to expose his photo. She sent his photo to one of his friends. With no apparent way out of this situation, Jordan took his own life that very night he connected with Dani. It had only been two hours after Dani’s initial demand for money.
As the case was investigate, it was discovered Dani was not a woman at all but a Nigerian man hiding behind the fake account. Gratefully, he along with two accomplices were arrested. If there is an upside to this tragedy, it is the attention it has brought to the danger and risk online predators pose to our precious children. Here is the full CourtTV story.
4 WAYS TO PROTECT A CHILD ON THE INTERNET
How can parents protect children from online predators and inappropriate content? Here are 4 ways to protect a child on the Internet.
#1 – Set Limits
Consider limiting the time of day your child can Internet access. By limiting the hours, your child is less likely to be online without your knowledge. For example, no Internet access between the hours of 8:00pm and 7:00am. The exchange with Jordan happened from 10:30 pm until past midnight.
Also consider having your child access the Internet from a device located in a common area of the house (kitchen, dining room, living room). Nowadays, children need the Internet for school work. Some families designate a common homework area where their children are observed and less likely to access what they should not on the world wide web.
# 2 – Basic Phone
Your child is not going to like us. This is the least desirable option in a child’s eyes, but may provide parents the greatest peace of mind. If your child has a phone to contact family in case of emergency, then all they may need is a phone that can call and text. Of course, children do not want to be seen with a vintage, hand-me-down flip phone. Therefore a Gabb device might be a great alternative to consider. It looks just like a smartphone.
Keep in mind that as children enter their teens, having a Gabb phone or other outdated phone may create social challenges with peers. This is where parental control apps come into play.
# 3 – Parental Controls and Apps
There are apps and tools parents can use depending on their goals. Our favorites include:
Bark for social media monitoring
MMGuardian for text monitoring
Net Nanny for children and pre-teens
Canopy for teens and older
Parents.com provides links to these apps in their 2023 Top Picks of Parental Control and Monitoring Apps. Check out all the features as well as pros and cons.
See also BuyersGuide.org for a table comparing the features of various monitoring apps.
# 4 – Open Communication
Be proactive. It is important to open lines of communication before your child needs it. Talk openly and age-appropriately about online “stranger danger.” Even if it seems like an online person is their friend, if mom or dad do not know them, they are a stranger. All communication should stop and the stranger should be blocked immediately.
Explain that if anyone ever asks for personal information, money, a photo, etc., they should never comply, no matter what the individual threatens to do. If someone asks for anything or sends inappropriate content, encourage them to tell you or a safe adult right away.
Be their safe adult. In the end, the best way to help a child in a precarious online situation is to make it safe for them to come to you. Let them know you will help and they will not get in trouble.
Sometimes, all it takes is one conversation to save a child from a risky online situation. Limiting Internet access, monitoring online activity with apps, and open communication about online safety can reduce the risk of your child becoming a victim of an online predator.
CONTACT CREATIVE COUNSELING CENTER
Are you struggling to limit your child’s screentime? Are you worried your child might be addicted to social apps? Do you suspect your child may be a victim of cyberbullying or online predators? Request a Free Phone Consultation by completing the brief form below. One of our team members reach out to learn more about your specific circumstance. Together we’ll determine whether our practice and which therapist may be a good fit for your needs. We hope to hear from you soon.