By: Stan Rozar, Upper School Computer Science
By definition, the Internet is a globally connected network system used to transmit data through various types of media. An Internet World Stats survey from 1999-2019 shows a formidable increase in Internet usage over those 20 years. In 1999, approximately 248 million people (0.4% of the world population) used the Internet; 2019 figures show usage by approximately 4000 million people, which is over half the world population. . These eye opening numbers clearly state the obvious, that the use of the Internet is increasing at a drastic rate year by year. I can imagine that these numbers may be very alarming to parents with regards to their children using the internet, when recent studies from a multitude of sources show that, on average, American teenagers spend six to nine hours a day with digital technology exploring various platforms (with the two most popular being social media and online gaming.) Even though social media and gaming are intended to serve as a source of positive interaction, communication, and fun, there are individuals in the world, known as Internet predators, who use these different outlets to take advantage of unsuspecting minors.
By the time a child has reached his or her adolescent years, they have heard something along the lines of “never talk to strangers under any circumstances” more than enough times, or at least they should have. Though that statement should be imbedded in a child by the time they become a teenager, contact with a stranger via internet is still much more common than one would think, due to online camouflaging and access to profiles being so easily attainable. According to the New England Journal of Public Policy, contact with online predators happens mostly in chat rooms, on social media, or in the chat feature of an online multiplayer game. Social networking websites often ask users to post a profile with their name, age, gender, hobbies, and interests. Many of these social networking sites are free and easy to use, which results in these being very appealing to online predators. As for gaming, researchers have discovered that this is just another easy way for predators to connect with children. Unlike social networks, gaming provides a unique connection composed of both a shared interest and a relationship stemmed from being on the same team, or fighting the same missions.
Internet predators often begintheir initial interactions with a child through a process called grooming. Grooming is the process by which a child predator gains the trust of a victim by building a relationship with the child and then breaking down his or defense. As I mentioned earlier, an Internet predator can go about pursuing this relationship through social media or online gaming using many different approaches. The most vital question and concern regarding these possibilities would include knowing when an online predator is either trying to, or isalready in contact with your child. If you notice that your child is spending a tremendous amount of time online and doesn’t tell you why, or seems to be very secretive about whatever they are doing on screen during your presence, those can be signs they are trying to hide an online relationship with a stranger. Also, if you happen to ask your child about their online activities and they respond in one or both of the following ways, it is vital that you take notice. They will either immediately get defensive or annoyed from the constant questioning, or they will clearly give off a nervous or anxious vibe during the conversation. Both reactions should result in immediate action taken by the parent.
There are several ways as a parent you can improve your child’s Internet safety; although none are completely bullet proof. These simple actions, if monitored properly and consistently, can limit the possibilities of your child falling victim. For social media, the most important action you can take is checking the privacy settings for each of your child’s online social profiles. Each separate social media account generally has the same privacy settings as others, and you can choose exactly who has access to your child’s profile for messaging and viewing. For gaming, you can check the parental controls on the game console and restrict strangers from gaining access to your child’s profile. Most games that are designed specifically for kids have specified settings that aid in preventing inappropriate comments and messages. However, games that are designed for a more general audience have fewer controls, settings, and safeguards, and should require more surveillance from the parent.
Ultimately, the best thing you can do to protect your child on the Internet is to get directly involved. Having direct access to your child’s profile allows you to get a front row seat to seeing exactly what they see. It allows you to get a personal feel for other people your child are interacting with, the language that they use, and whether or not your child is at risk of being groomed. Sadly, however, FBI.gov states that even with all the media attention on the dangers of social networking, they still receive hundreds of complaints per year about children who have been victims of criminal incidents on social networks. My intention inpointing out this statistic is not to strike fear, but to expand awareness, and to bring additional light in taking proper precautions. With an appropriate combination of a parent’s direct involvement, along with a constant emphasis of the importance of never sharing any personal information with a stranger, I can confidently state that your child’s chances of falling victim to Internet predators will decrease profoundly.