In this day and age, almost every child is online – a lot. From social media and apps to videos and homework, kids use the Internet nearly every single day, many times a day. While the Internet has positive purposes, it can also place children at more risk than we may realize.
So how can we keep children and youth safe? How can we educate them about why it is important to know who you are talking to online or what happens when you take and send a picture? How do we empower our kids to make safe choices – in real and virtual environments?
June is National Internet Safety Month. With schools letting out for the summer and our kids having even more time on their hands to be online, take a moment to understand the importance of Internet safety, and take time to talk to the youth in your life about it.
What does Internet safety for youth include? The Internet is more than hopping online and surfing the web. For kids today, it includes social media, where they post about themselves. Other uses involve sending pictures via text messages, email, or other messaging apps. The creating, posting, or simply viewing of videos, online gaming, and maybe even research for a school project are more examples. These avenues of information and communication are at the fingertips of youth, and they may not know they need to be cautious.
Who is at risk? Anyone who uses the Internet can be at risk. As an adult, mitigating that risk can include protecting your identity, preventing a hacker from accessing your email and attachments, or keeping your personal information private. As a child, protecting against risks can occur in less obvious ways.
Five safety risks for youth online include:
- posting personal experiences, including the location where the youth is at a given moment
- expressing negative emotions they may be feeling towards themselves or others
- taking pictures of themselves and sending them to others
- searching the Internet without parental controls
- talking to strangers while playing online games or becoming “friends” with strangers on social media
Without proper knowledge or protection, any child can be at risk online.
What are the potential and hidden dangers? What can you do? Internet safety impacts children in ways such as cyberbullying, exploitation, and even human trafficking. Youth often use social media and apps to share about their day – the good and the bad parts. If a young person had a fight with a family member, is feeling sad or lonely, is desiring the latest trend, or is simply even excited for their dreams, they’re sharing it. Unfortunately, there are those online who wish to take these vulnerable moments and manipulate or exploit them. See some examples below to learn more about these dangers and what you can do to prevent them.
- Youth often post their personal experiences on social media – the disappointments and the celebrations. They also “check in” to places or share exact locations of where they are and who they are with – sometimes without adults. While this may seem harmless, the danger is that traffickers look for these posts and use social media to recruit victims of human trafficking, without the youth even knowing that is what is happening. A trafficker’s tactic is to begin to build relationship and trust, and this danger can often begin as a flirtatious conversation that gives attention and affirmation. It can also take the form of empathy or relatability, or it can be a lure for labor trafficking with the promise of a better future. Talk with your youth about whether their profiles are private or public, how they determine who to talk with in direct messaging, and who they choose to friend. Youth can protect themselves by being cautious of what they post and who they talk to about it online.
- Youth who are experiencing difficulties at home may feel lonely, isolated, misunderstood, or angry. Youth who post about these troubles online risk attention from a bully or a trafficker who will try to relate to the youth and say that if they were in the youth’s life, they would never cause him or her harm. They may try to agree with the youth by affirming their feelings and offering guidance and support. Youth desire this type of connection and begin to build a relationship that can quickly turn harmful. Youth can protect themselves by being mindful of who they share these feelings with – finding a safe person to talk with can offer an alternative to posting online. Youth should be aware of who they allow to speak into their life and who they receive advice from.
- Youth are constantly taking selfies of themselves, but do they know what happens when they send the photo? Often, youth think they are messaging a trusted person, and while that may be the case, once a photo is sent, they are no longer in control of who views or re-sends that photo. Youth can become bullied or their photos can be viewed on non-intended sites.
- Pop-up ads can lead youth to click on links that are not appropriate or can accidentally download malware. As youth search online, websites that appear to be legitimate may not be, which can expose or lure youth into viewing adult content. Knowing what boundaries to set can protect your child.
- Youth who are viewing videos and games online are at risk of being exposed to violence and behavior that can be harmful to others. They are also susceptible to being “friended” by those viewing or playing the game. While the child may think he or she is familiar with the other player or viewer, that person may know personal information about the child that will lead him or her to believe the person is safe and can be trusted, which may result in the giving away of more personal information that can put the child and others in harm’s way.
What can I do? If you have a youth in your life or know a parent, teacher, or someone else in the field of education, you can bring awareness about Internet safety. Oftentimes, parents and other adults in a child’s life don’t know the extent of online dangers, so become educated – then equip others! Review the resources below to learn how you can keep the youth in your life safe.
- Netsmartz has created videos, games, and more for children and teens that are peer to peer created to help them, and parents, understand Internet safety.
- B4UClick offers videos, games, and resources for parents and educators to help keep youth safe when online. Resources are available for specific age groups with engaging and informative content.
- Learn what makes your child vulnerable, traffickers’ tactics, warning signs, and what you can do from the Shared Hope Internet Safety Guide. Also review their “Your Kids and Technology PDF” for parents.
- Enough is Enough and Internet Safety 101 offer resources regarding social media, online gaming, and more to equip you to stay safe online.
- Polaris has released a report titled “A Roadmap for Systems and Industries to Prevent and Disrupt Human Trafficking” with an emphasis on Human Trafficking and Social Media. Learn how social media may be used in recruitment, in trafficking operations, as a means of control, and more.
- The University of Toledo Human Trafficking and Social Justice Institute released a study on human trafficking and social media, highlighting how the posts of youth online draw the attention of traffickers.
- “Your Photo Fate” is a video by Netsmartz for youth to learn about what happens when you take a picture and how to stay safe.
- Help the kids in your life stay safe when searching with Safe Search Kids, powered by Google. Review the resources, guides, and articles for both kids and parents.
- What you need to know about gaming, what you can do, and how to talk to your youth are all resources available by Netsmartz to equip you to keep your youth safe.
Consider today who you can share this information with to help keep youth safe in your community.