July 2008

The ABCs of Children’s Online Safety

Wired kids. Cyber teens. The Internet Generation. There may be varied terms to describe today’s young web users, but they all have one thing in common: they grew up with PCs and are not aware of what a world before the Web was like. While children and teens may be comfortable with computer technology, they are not immune to the boundless nasties of the Internet; in fact, their online behavior may put themselves and their family members at risk.

The Web provides many benefits to young computer users; it’s an important learning and research tool, not to mention a platform for socializing and games. In fact, almost 60 percent of children three years of age and older are using the Internet, according to industry reports.

These types of statistics show that regardless of your role in a child’s life – from parent to friend to teacher – it’s important to educate them on online safety.

Like adults, young Web users face a number of security challenges every time they visit the Web. And like adults, the more knowledge children and teens have, the better prepared they will be to handle any type of online threat.

What types of threats could they encounter? As is true in the real world, the cyber world carries a variety of hazards. One danger usually at the forefront of children’s online safety discussions is cyber predators. Statistics from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children show that about one in seven young people have received a sexual solicitation or approach while online.

But children may be more likely to experience online harassment from their peers, known as cyber bullying, than to be targeted by a stranger. According to i-Safe Inc., a non-profit group dedicated to Internet safety education, 42 percent of kids have been bullied online, and one in four have had it happen more than once.

Another cause of concern is the inappropriate or even harmful content that the web may expose young surfers to. What most parents do not know about their kids online safety may have nothing to do with accidentally stumbling on an adult website; it is MySpace and YouTube and peer-to-peer file sharing (also known as downloading free music, screensavers, and smiley faces for your e-mail and a host of other free goodies) that entice novice computer users into clicking banner ads and pop-ups.

And many youngsters may be at risk due to these online behaviors. According to results from Consumer Reports State of the Net 2007 survey, “Among respondents with minors online, 13 percent of their children who were registered at the giant networking site MySpace.com were younger than 14, the minimum age the site officially allows. We also found that many parents haven't prepared their children for online risks.”

How can you minimize the danger of online threats and prepare young Internet users for wise Web use? For specific guidelines, see our next article, 10 Tips for Secure Family Computing.

 
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78Percentage of teens between the ages of 12 and 17 who use the Internet. More than half of online kids – 61 percent – use the Internet on a daily basis.
Source: Pew Internet and American Life Project

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