Guest post by Hope Druckenmiller
June is Internet Safety Month, and with youth being out of school, at home, and online more often, we urge you to become aware of dangers facing kids and teens online as well as how you can address the topic of online safety with the youth in your life.
At the end of May, which was also Mental Health Awareness Month, the US Surgeon General released an advisory statement that warns of the potentially harmful effects of social media platforms on minors. The report follows a similar one published by the American Psychological Association (APA), the first study of its kind published by the APA.
These reports highlight the close relationship between mental health and social media use, so as we move from Mental Health Awareness Month in May to Internet Safety Month in June, we at Engage Together want to equip you with helpful tools and resources so that you can educate yourself and the kids and teens in your life about online safety.
Internet Safety & Federal Policy – The EARN IT Act
One of the biggest and most important conversations currently happening around the topic of online safety has to do with The Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies Act, or the EARN IT Act, which is a child protection legislation that is currently pending before Congress. By holding technology and social media companies accountable for knowingly distributing child sexual abuse material (CSAM) on their platforms, the Act creates safer online spaces for children and teens, gives survivors a path to justice and a chance to restore their privacy, and respects user privacy and free speech.
The National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) provides valuable resources surrounding this topic, including critical updates about the Act, frequently asked questions, and myths vs. facts. One quick and practical way you can make your voice heard concerning the EARN IT Act is by contacting your state’s members of Congress and urging them to support the Act. Visit NCOSE’s Take Action page to fill out an online form that identifies your representatives and creates an email that can be sent right from NCOSE’s website.
Internet Safety & Individual Action – Resources for You & Your Kids
The Online Safety Toolkit, presented by Engage Together and Justice U, contains information and resources that will help you create a safe environment, empower your kids, and protect them online. There are specific resources available for gaming and popular platforms such as YouTube, TikTok, and other social media apps. You can view information about sexting, sextortion, cyberbullying, and safe searching, as well as tips on how to talk to your teens about these topics. The toolkit also contains an example of a family media agreement and age-specific resources that can be used by both kids and teens. Download this free resource today!
The AFRJ Student Council has created a Monthly Action Kit for Internet Safety Month to highlight for students the importance of online safety when browsing, gaming, and using social media and to help them bring awareness to their school, peers, and community. Consider viewing this toolkit with your student and picking a few actionable tasks to focus on, such as learning how exploitation can happen through gaming or sharing photos online, creating social media posts with safety information, or sharing helpful resources with local elementary and middle school administrators. Download this free resource today!
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) created the CyberTipline, an online mechanism where incidents of suspected child sexual exploitation can be reported. NCMEC also created the Take It Down tool, a free service that helps individuals remove or stop the sharing of sexually explicit images or photos that were taken when the individual was under the age of 18.
Netsmartz is NCMEC’S online safety education program that features age-appropriate resources for kids and teens, including animated video series for younger kids and real-life stories and interviews with teenage survivors for older kids. For parents, caregivers, and educators, downloadable PowerPoint presentations, tip sheets, and classroom activities are also available.
The FBI provides comprehensive information on sextortion for kids, teens, and caregivers – what it is, the difference in traditional and financial sextortion, and how to get help if you or someone you know is being exploited online. The Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force Program also provides resources for kids and parents, general resources, and helpful videos. They offer safety tools for Facebook and Microsoft, conversation tips for parents, information on cyberbullying, and resources that are available in Spanish.
Recommended Next Steps
Take time this month – maybe as a family – to learn more from any or all of the resources listed above. Share these resources with other parents and caregivers in your network. Have the conversation with the youth in your life about how to practice online safety and empower them with the knowledge they need to be their own best advocate.
In this increasingly digital age, the threat of harm is real. But there are also real actions we can take, large and small, that will make a difference in keeping kids safer online. Find a way to take action today.