August 9, 2016
Keeping Kids Safe from Online Mistakes
Most kids and teens want to be good. Much of the time, when kids break rules, they do so because they aren’t responsible or mature enough to understand the ramifications or consequences of a mistake. And most of the time, the types of mistakes kids are likely to make do not lead to serious consequences. But in those cases where a small mistake can lead to huge problems, most parents don’t feel inclined to leave anything up to chance.
When it comes to the way your kids behave online, you may find it easier to turn a bit of a blind eye. After all, many parents are inclined to trust that their kids won’t be able to get themselves into too much trouble on the Internet. But as the Internet has become such a normal part of our lives, it can become easy to forget just how easy it can be for a small mistake online to lead to a huge problem. For that reason, it behooves you to know what kinds of mistakes kids might make online and what you can do to prevent those mistakes from getting out of hand.
- Kids may accidentally catch the attention of a stalker or predator. Though the police have developed increasingly sophisticated ways to protect kids from predatory behavior online, there are still lots of ways for predators to take advantage of the fact that kids and teens are in relatively unsupervised settings when they are online. Kids should know that they should never share personal information or photos with a stranger online. They should be extremely careful about what they choose to share on social media and they should not be using dating or hook-up apps as these are not really suitable platforms for teens. Even dating platforms made specifically for teenagers are not fool-proof.
- Sending explicit photos or texts to anyone, even other kids and teens they may know, is dangerous behavior. Kids should be made aware that anything they send or post online is no longer in their control. Anyone they send that material to can use it against them. Some states will also treat this behavior as the creation of child pornography such that kids can get into legal trouble for sending pictures of themselves.
- Though downloading copyrighted materials has become increasingly common, kids should be extremely wary of participating in this kind of behavior. In certain instances, law enforcement and private companies have gone out their way to make examples out of kids and teens who were caught illegally downloading materials. Kids may end up facing extremely high penalties for illegal downloading even including juvenile detention.
- Accidentally viewing illegal content can land kids in serious trouble. In one particular case cited on Reddit, a fourteen-year-old who decided to look up child pornography was caught when police traced the download and arrested him at his home. Though the teen is now an adult, he is still legally a registered sex offender. Though this may be an extreme case, it can be very difficult for kids at this age to resist the kind of curiosity that might cause them look up illegal materials and to recognize the moral and legal ramifications of that kind of behavior. Teens who will use the Internet should be thoroughly informed on the dangers of intentionally seeking out anything dangerous or illegal. Similarly, kids can find surprisingly easy access to such dangerous material as directions to build explosives and extremist websites that will foster and promote destructive beliefs.
- Kids can easily accidentally see materials that are age-inappropriate for them. While they aren’t likely to face serious trouble for this kind of mistake, accidentally seeing violent or pornographic materials can be disturbing for young kids and if they’re afraid they might get in trouble for viewing those materials, they may not know how to ask you for help in understanding what they saw.
The good news is that there are a few things you can do to protect your kids from making serious mistakes online. Of course, one of the first and most important steps you should take is to make your kids aware of the types of dangers that the Internet presents. If kids are aware of these problems and understand why they are problematic, they are much more likely to make mature and responsible decisions should these situations come up.
You should next come up with a clear and consistent set of rules to govern how your kids will be allowed to use the Internet in your home. You might consider limiting time allowances, blocking certain websites, and limiting access to certain devices based on each child’s age. For example, it makes sense that your sixteen-year-old should have more priveliges and freedom than your ten-year-old.
You may also want to consider installing a family filtering software like Rated 4 Kids. Such services make it much easier to block certain websites as well as similar websites that your child may stumble upon. A perhaps still more valuable option is the way the program allows you to set custom settings for different devices. This way, your sixteen-year-old can have her own set of settings on his phone which will automatically enforce the rules you set for her, distinct from the rules on your ten-year-old’s phone or the family computer. This option is likely to feel more fair than if all family members have to follow the same exact guidelines and if each kid gets more freedom as they get older and more responsible.