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Keep Your Kids Safe in Cyberspace

March, 2012
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The Internet has become a major part of our world today, and more so, it has become a necessity; a sense of connection and belonging in our children’s lives. “Life would be boring without it” and “Technology is an extension of who I am” are common statements young adults make to express their attachment to the Internet.

robyn-treyvaud3The Internet is indeed an amazing place full of unlimited information, resources, and networks of people from all over the world, providing our children with knowledge, entertainment, and networks. However, just like there are dangers and risks in the real world that we live in, there are just as many, if not more, dangers in cyber space that we must be aware of.

It is important that we provide supervision and parental guidance when our children are online but in order to do so, parents must first recognize the importance of Internet safety and be familiar with the issues and dangers surrounding it. For those who feel your child is still too young for the discussion, you must realize that if your child isn’t already “online”, he or she is very soon to join the 10 million other children that are currently using the Internet. (Find/SVP’s 1997 American Internet User Survey)

“I worked with young people and was very privileged to go with them on an equivalent of a 21st Century bear hunt (the exploration of internet). What I found is that most of them have very positive experiences most of the time, but we are now seeing a greater prevalence of the young people who aren’t necessary having a good time online. They are often being harmed or are harming other peers”, said Robyn Treyvaud, an education consultant and renowned expert in cyber safety. Treyvaud paid a visit to Shanghai American School, Pudong campus on Monday 13th of February and talked to the students and families.

Unlike television and radio, the Internet provides one of the greatest challenges for parents because of its interactive capabilities. There are anonymous people online who use this very powerful tool to promote things we do not want our children to be exposed to such as pornography, drugs, and other inappropriate content or schemes. In addition, sometimes children themselves become these very “anonymous people,” delivering and sharing these contents and/or conducts in the Internet community.

Here are some dangers and risks children and young adults may experience online:

Cyber Bullying occurs when kids use the Internet, cell phone or other devices to send derogatory emails, texts, or images to threaten or embarrass others. Sometimes words may not seem as powerful as physical action as in real life bullying. However, study shows that cyber bullying re-victimizes the victim every time he or she reads the insulting message as if it was the first time. Because offenders feel safe from physical retaliation and usually participate in a group, the “group think” mentality make one feel less responsible for causing harm to the victim. In addition, not witnessing the direct reaction of the victim also contributes to the offender’s’ difficulty in feeling empathy or guilt. Often the ones “bullied” offline become the “bully” online.

Nothing is truly private refers to children often posting too much personal information on the Internet without knowing the consequences. Writing and sharing online blogs, following people on Twitter, socializing in online chat rooms, uploading pictures and adding friends on Facebook may all seem like harmless acts but most children are giving away very private information about themselves and their family without knowing fully who the audience may be. These actions open up the doors to criminals, sexual offenders, and perverts. . 

Sexting is the act of photographing sexually explicit images and sharing them virally with friends or online. It is often associated with an act of revenge or seeking retribution from unpleasant real life incidents. Unfortunately many young adults are not aware of the severity of this action and many very young minors are charged with child pornography offenses from these acts.

robyn-treyvaud2Receiving unsolicited emails and getting easy access to pornography. Surfing the web is a great tool for research and useful way to get help and support on homework, but it also can provide misleading and inaccurate information as well as a host of age inappropriate content. Many of these “spams” or “websites” may also contain viruses that can damage your child’s computer and lead to Internet hacking, loss of personal data or even identity theft.

These are only a partial list of some of the risks or inappropriate behaviors that children may encounter or engage in online, but how do you prevent them from happening? The Internet is the new playground for young people but there is no direct adult supervision or visibility there and not every child is mature and responsible enough for their own actions in the virtual world.

“It is important to help them understand that they have rights, responsibilities, and they do have control to the things that might happen to them in the digital world”, exclaims Treyvaud. “They must behave respectfully, kind, ethically, and responsibly no matter what world they inhabit, digital or physical”, she adds.

Parents must take the time and talk to their child about cyber safety and behave and treat others, as you would do in real life. You must recognize that the Internet is no longer a toy that you can just take away from your child or simply unplug when he misbehaves. It likely has already become a visceral part of their world. Removing the device as a form of punishment is not a wise or productive long-term solution.

The Internet has become a tool that can benefit their education, develop their interests, and enhance their future career. The expression “You can’t live with them, and you can’t live without them” fits the Internet quite well. However, there are still solutions on how you can provide a safe online environment for your children or young students:

1. Learn about the Internet. Chances are that your kids and/or students probably know more about the Internet than you. It is recommended that you take the time to get familiar with this tool so you can effectively assist them. Surf the sites they often visit and see if they are age appropriate and check for parental control settings.

2. Set guidelines for Internet usage. Teach them the importance of using the Internet safely and responsibly by enforcing strict but reasonable rules such as time limits on usage, rules on purchasing products online, limiting your child to specific chat rooms, avoid talking with strangers and never meeting anyone from online without your presence. A written safety agreement with your child is also recommended to serve as a warning to your child about not sharing personal information.

3. Spend time online with your child. Talk to your child about their Internet experience and what they enjoy and what worries them online. It is important to build a relationship of trust and understanding and not blame your child for any type of negative experience they have encountered. Encourage them to come and talk to you if any uncomfortable encounters occur from the Internet.

The internet is a door to a new world with many great things behind it, but we must be sure to guide our kids through it and lead them to a safe environment where they can express their creativity and personality. Communication is the key.  

 

By Richard Chung

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