Depending on the ages of your children, they are spending anywhere from two to nearly eight hours a day on the Internet, and perhaps even more during summer months. While the Internet world offers children experiences that can be both educational and rewarding, it can also pose a risk.
In an effort to help parents protect their children online, Better Business Bureau serving Upstate New York offers advice to avoid the most prevalent online risks children may encounter.
"We know children will be tempted to roam around unknown websites. It's the parents who end up with the responsibility of keeping an eye on their online activity," said Warren Clark, President of BBB serving Upstate New York. "Kids will not necessarily know how to spot lurking danger, leaving parents with another tough job. It's important that parents and caregivers teach children the rules and risks of cyberspace and take the time to try out apps and online services that your child uses so you can assess whether there is risk involved with them."
Why does the Internet pose such new challenges for parents and caregivers? It comes down to one word - interactive - which is unlike other entertainment venues, such as television or radio. Your child can "talk" with anyone online. It also allows any user, anywhere, to post information, including materials that are inaccurate, misleading and inappropriate for children. And, it could also give people the opportunity to collect personal information from your child.
BBB offers the most prevalent risks that children may encounter online:
Tracking. Advertisers are tracking your and your children's online activity. Better Business Bureaus children's advertising review unit offers parents a free online guide that explains privacy issues, cyberbullying, stalking and other important aspects of online safety for children.
Bullying and harassment. This is most likely to happen through social networking sites or through email or text messages. It's important to listen to your children and encourage them to discuss their fears and feelings about such incidents. The website ikeepsafe.org offers resources to help parents deal with cyberbullying.
Reputation-harming posts. Children may not understand that "online is forever." Posts can haunt them at some point in the future, and may be saved by someone - even after it has been deleted by a user. Be sure your kids understand this, especially as it applies to pictures. Take the time to use a search engine to check up on what has been posted by or about your children.
Phishing attempts and identity theft. Help your children understand emails requesting passwords and usernames may be fake, even though they may look legitimate. Tell them they should never click on links in such emails. Explain to them they should not share their passwords with anyone, except you, and make sure the operating systems and security systems on your devices are kept up-to-date.
Inappropriate content. Children can easily stumble upon material that is sexual, violent or illustrates illegal activity. What parent hasn't heard "but there's no blood" as an excuse for watching a movie or playing a video game? Explain the true consequences of violence, and point out how unrealistic it is for people to get away with violent behavior.
Parents need to know their kids' media. Check out ratings, and, when there are none, find out about content. For example, content in a 1992 R-rated movie is now acceptable for a PG-13, and keep in mind streaming online videos do not have ratings. Establish rules about which sites can and cannot be visited online.
Online stalkers/predators. Though such incidents make the news, the risk of a child or teen being harmed by someone they met online is considered to be low. Nevertheless, common-sense rules always apply. Any communication your child has with an unknown person online that veers into subjects like sex or other physical details should be ended at once and reported to you. Call your local police department if you suspect your child is being contacted for sexual reasons.
Be aware of the "digital footprint." What is a digital footprint? It's a trail of everything you do online. While many trails can be positive, some can harm children personally or professionally down the line.