The popularity of mobile devices and smartphones has produced more tech-savvy kids. Based on a 2013 survey by Scratch Wireless, nearly one in five kids uses a mobile device every day. Other children regularly go online through tablets, laptops and home PCs. Connectivity is ever more in reach — and often outside of the watchful eyes of parents and other caregivers.
Although statistics vary, Symantec, maker of Norton Internet Security software, estimates that at least 20 percent of kids will receive harassing, hateful or insulting messages via the Internet. That’s not the only hazard of browsing the Internet. According to the Journal of Adolescent Health, 65 percent of online sex offenders use social networking sites to gain home and school information about their victims and 82 percent of online sex crimes against minors originate from online social information. The Internet also can put children in touch with age-inappropriate media content and pornographic or racy imagery. Mobile devices can provide a distraction for teenagers, which can be dangerous when used while they are driving.
While parents worry about their kids going online, smartphones enable families to stay readily in touch, and many students turn to the Internet for school assignments. Parents who want to protect their youngsters from less reputable online elements can take certain measures to reduce the risk that their kids will come across questionable people and/or content when surfing the Internet.
Parental and security controls are built into most devices that connect to the Internet. Parents can customize the settings, limiting what kids can and can’t do on each particular device. Websites with questionable or adult content can be blocked, and location services or chatting may be turned off. Security settings also enable parents to set up passwords so that purchases can be prevented or that certain applications require entry of a password before they can be accessed.
Keep personal information to a minimum
Whenever children and even adults create new online accounts or profiles, they should limit the amount of personal information they provide. Try not to set up usernames that include full first and last names. Avoid any mention of birthdays, addresses, phone numbers, and names of schools. Vague profiles protect user information and make it more difficult for online predators to target people.
Turn off geolocation services
Many mobile apps use something called geolocation to automatically share a person’s location with others. Other apps may require location information for maps or to provide directions or recommendations for businesses in the area. In addition, some photos taken with geolocation services activated may be geo-tagged, meaning the digital image is imprinted with a code that can tell others where it was taken. Location services can identify where a child is and put this information in the hands of people trolling for personal information online.
Use hotspots cautiously
Wi-Fi hotspots provide free Internet connectivity when customers are at restaurants, parks or other areas with Wi-Fi service available. Hotspots can be particularly attractive to kids with limited data plans. However, hotspots are less secure than home Internet connections, and Wi-Fi hotspot users are vulnerable to cyber criminals. Kids should never share personal information, account numbers or other intimate details when using a hotspot.
The “selfie” craze invites people from all over to post pictures of themselves on social media sites. While it can be fun to share images over the Internet, availability of photos can lead to trouble. Photos could give others clues to where kids go to school, work or live. Images posted while on vacation may alert others that someone is not home.
Compromising or suggestive photos can harm a child’s reputation or even lead to exploitation. Stress to children that they should only take photos they would be willing to share with their parents and that they should keep posted photos to a minimum. Exercise caution whenever posting images, and rely on security measures to limit who can view those images.
Be on alert for malware
A program or app may contain malware that steals information behind the scenes. Only download content that can be verified as valid. Free offers and email messages that advertise software for download or Web links should be avoided.
The Web puts many people who live all around the world in instant contact with one another. Children should never send information or interact on a personal level with someone they do not know. Parents should stress the importance of avoiding strangers online just like they do when teaching kids to avoid strangers in public.
The Internet has changed the way parents must safeguard their children from dangers in the world. Practicing common sense and employing safety measures and software can limit kids’ vulnerability to the dangers that lurk online.