The Places They’ll Go

“It’s 10 p.m. Do you know where your children are?”

That catch phrase of the past still applies today. But now, in our increasingly tech-centered world, it may be more fitting to ask, “Do you know where your children are online?”

The so-called “Internet generation” of today has grown up with computer technology as an ordinary part of everyday life. While young children and teens may be comfortable with their PCs, they are not immune to the boundless nasties of the Internet. Their online behavior may actually put themselves, as well as their families, 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. But, as is true in the real world, the cyber world carries a variety of hazards. What types of threats could they encounter as they navigate the Net?

Online Predators
The variety of Web 2.0 applications (like social networking sites, wikis, and other communication tools) means that the Internet is an effortless way for kids to meet old friends and make new ones. One danger that springs from this – usually at the forefront of children’s online safety discussions – is cyber predators; these online intruders take advantage of the Web’s openness and anonymity to prey on young people. 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.

Cyber Bullying
More than ever, children use the Internet to socialize and communicate with their peers. However, negative behavior that is carried out in the real world is not left offline.  Statistics show that 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.

Inappropriate Content
Another cause of concern is the inappropriate or even harmful content that the web may expose young surfers to, such as pornography and violence. Aggressive advertising and commercialism can be equally damaging. Messages targeting young people may attempt to persuade them to hand over money or information in order to get products that they want. In the wrong hands, personal or financial information can lead to invasive advertising, like pop-ups and spam, and even to identity theft.

Stealthy Security Threats
Sites that kids frequent may have advertisements popping-up regularly or attempt to download programs without your child asking for them. Novice computer users can easily be enticed to click banner ads and pop-up messages. It only takes one misguided click or website choice to infect your family’s PC with malware, spyware, or a virus. On top of that, even the most mainstream sites are subject to covert attack techniques like SQL injections and drive-by-downloads. Malicious intrusions can lead to privacy invasions, compromised personal information, and financial loss.

How can you minimize the danger of online threats and prepare young Internet users for wise Web use? The more knowledge children and teens have, the better prepared they will be to handle any type of online threat.  For specific guidelines, see our articles “Cyber Safety 101” and “Back to School Security.”

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