Child Safety Online - Important Things to Know

Articles
Published:
February 15, 2023

A child logs onto the internet for the first time every half-second, according to a UNICEF study. The internet has become increasingly more important in our lives for a variety of purposes from education to entertainment to staying connected with each other, but as the benefits of the internet have increased, so have the risks associated with it. Keeping your children safe online is more important, and more complicated, than ever before. Although certain legal protections for minors exist, there are many limitations that make them less effective, including jurisdictional limitations and age restrictions on protection. For example, while the Children's Online Privacy Protection Rule, or COPPA, “imposes certain requirements on operators of websites or online services directed to children or other websites or online services that have actual knowledge that they are collecting personal information online from a child,” these protections stop when the child turns 13, five years before the federal age of adulthood. While these limitations and restrictions make it more difficult to ensure that children are safe surfing the web, Red Five works to address this issue by identifying the threats children face when they sign online, including information collection, cyber bullying, and exposure to dangerous content, and working with parents to counteract those threats and protect both their children and themselves.

Information Collection

Although issues such as information collection for targeted ads and identity theft are risks to anyone who uses the internet; children are at a high risk because they do not yet understand social boundaries. They may post personally identifiable information (PII) and other private information online, for example in their social media profiles, which should not be made public. This information could be as simple as the name of their school or sport team, or could include location information from social media check-ins or contact information, which bad actors could use for malicious purposes. Children are also more likely to download apps or run updates more frequently and with less scrutiny leading to an increased risk for malware and spyware attacks. These attacks can lead to viruses on the device that can gain access to accounts, gather key-stroke data, and even download saved passwords and search history for someone else to access.

Cyber Bullying and Mental Health Issues

In a UNICEF study conducted in 30 countries, more than a third of young people under the age of 17 have reported being cyber bullied, with one in five skipping school because of it. Cyber bullying takes many forms, and can include mocking or teasing individuals, spreading lies or rumors, spreading personal secrets or photos online, and even sending threatening messages or blackmail. Cyber bullying is prevalent in chat rooms and comment sections on platforms frequented by children. The anonymity of the internet creates a false sense of confidence in offenders, leading them to say things they might not say in person. Studies have also shown that increased time spent online leads to an increased risk of mental health issues and even eating disorders in children.

Exposure to Dangerous Content

While specific algorithms exist on many platforms to help filter out harmful and dangerous content, it is always one click away. Hate speech, radicalization, self-harm and suicidal ideology, and violent content are rampant across platforms and can desensitize children and cause them harm. Children may also be victimized through the production, distribution, and consumption of sexual abuse material, or they may be groomed for sexual exploitation, with abusers attempting to meet them in person or extort them for explicit content. Approximately 80 percent of children in 25 countries reported feeling in danger of sexual abuse or exploitation online, according to UNICEF.

Recommendations

With so many risks and challenges to protecting your children online, it is more important than ever to understand how to protect you children, and by extension yourselves, from the threats they face.

  • First and foremost, open communication between you and your child is key. Familiarize yourselves with the sites they visit and the people they communicate with, and make sure they understand your expectations when it comes to visiting new sites, posting online, and downloading apps and data.
  • Use security measures on devices such as Apple and Google phones to keep children from accessing specific apps, using credit cards to make purchases, and even limit the amount of time spent on specific apps and webpages.
  • Everyone who accesses your devices should have secure passwords and know how to delete search histories and cookies.

In the event they do fall victim, knowing how to proceed and how to minimize the damage is vital. Preparing for a potential security risk and reacting to one in the moment in the midst of panic and stress are two very different things, which is why the best practice is to turn to experts who regularly handle these issues and can answer your questions. With our resources and experience, Red Five can help you understand your child’s online exposure, assist you in protecting your child and yourself by securing devices and online accounts, and help you feel confident that you are setting your child up to be a smart, safe online consumer.

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