The concept of “stranger danger” is something children are taught early on, but with ease of access to the internet, parents should also educate their kids about dangers online.
Today’s young people are often called digital natives because they have had high-speed internet access throughout their lives. They have been exposed to everything – from phishing and cyberbullying to encounters with strangers and unsafe content.
The Child Internet Protection Act requires K-12 schools and libraries to use internet filters and other measures to protect children from harmful content, but it doesn’t shield children using personal computers and smart devices.
“Educate [your children] young, so they know as they grow up,” says Ethan Murphy, a cyber security instructor at Mid-America Technology in Wayne. “Sometimes, kids don’t even know what scams are or what unsafe material is.”
Parents may think their children are watching harmless YouTube videos or accessing friendly applications, but often that is how and when kids are exposed to unsafe content. Murphy says staying aware of children’s devices and “gateway” apps that they may have downloaded is a primary step to keeping them safe.
“If you see an app on a smart device that you don’t recognize, research it,” Murphy says. “Don’t just trust your kids. Studies … show [children] with YouTube will stumble upon unsafe material. They also use sites like Reddit, where in some forums the game is to show the most unsafe content you can.”
Davis Pearson, systems administrator at Conexient, an internet technology company in Oklahoma City, concurs.
“Children are easily the most vulnerable demographic when it comes to online content,” he says. “The foundation of the internet was not constructed with security in mind, and we are currently paying the price.”
Some parents fear their children accessing the so-called dark web, but Pearson assures that isn’t something they stroll into easily.
“The dark web isn’t directly accessible through the internet, but the dangers can leak out into the public web by various avenues,” he says. “One of those ways is social networking. These illegal industries can market themselves as something much more innocent on the public web and easily and sufficiently extort people for money, information, identity – you name it. You can be sure that there are people that specialize in preying on children, especially disadvantaged children.”
Kids are more likely than others to fall for phishing attacks, which gather demographic and banking information and Social Security numbers.
“[Children] trust easily, and many haven’t been exposed to or taught about the true dangers of the internet,” Pearson says. “The attacker would have to utilize popular characters from children’s favorite TV shows to entice a victim into a conversation. Depending on the cleverness of the individual, they could even coax the child to obtain their parents’ payment information and forms of identity.”
Both Murphy and Pearson agree that cyberbullying is one of the most significant issues that young people face on the internet … and one of the hardest to protect against.
“The internet opens up a whole new world of ways for [children] to not only be bullied, but for them to do the bullying much more conveniently,” Pearson says. “Kids love the anonymity of the internet.”
He urges parents to understand that they can’t protect their children 100 percent from internet dangers; therefore, educating them is essential.
“No matter what you do, your child will be exposed to the unfiltered internet at some point growing up,” he says. “The best thing you can do is to discuss the dangers … with your child, so it doesn’t come as a surprise to them later. Knowledge and understanding are key.”