Protecting children from predatory practices and inappropriate content online is one of the major issues of our time. Whether it’s online gaming, social media, or just regular browsing, new research suggests that kids are constantly exposed to risks that could damage their development.
According to a Harvard Center for Risk Literacy study, 83% of parents feel anxious about their children’s everyday online activity, and 70% are worried about their children’s safety online.
Forbes contributor and parenting coach Kylie McAndrew says that while these numbers may not seem high, they represent a major shift in how parents view their kids’ safety online. The study also found that 44% of parents check their children’s social media accounts for improper content, while 29% regularly monitor their kids’ text messaging.
With the growth of the digital native generation – children who were born into the world of technology – comes an increased awareness of technology’s role in their upbringing. According to Future Inc., a research group that focuses on emerging technologies and consumer behavior, 73% of millennials are using technology to research products and services before purchasing them, compared to just 29% using traditional methods.
The Rise of The Self-Regulating Child
What’s responsible parenting in the digital age? The line has blurred between child and adult supervision, as more and more parents are understanding that their kids need to be involved in the decision-making process about what’s appropriate online. Studies have shown that children as young as 4 or 5 can be trained to recognize and report online threats or inappropriate content.
One of the issues that arise is how to discipline these children when they’re accused of something. Cyberbullying, or online bullying, is a prevalent issue among adolescents and young adults, with 37% reporting being a victim of cyberbullying, according to the Cyberbullying Research Center. This is compared to 14% of teens who have been physically bullied and 11% who have been emotionally bullied. What’s more, one in four teens who have been bullied online went on to become a digitally-harassing bully themselves.
While adults are responsible for teaching their children about appropriate online behavior, it’s a two-way street. Kids need to learn to be responsible because, as we’ve established, they’re going to be online for the majority of their childhood. This is a critical period of development, as studies have shown that children from ages 4 to 10 can exhibit problem-solving skills, impulse control, and social skills that improve their chances of adapting successfully to life online.
Protecting Children’s Privacy
Just because kids are going to be online doesn’t mean their privacy needs to be compromised. According to Future Inc., a whopping 95% of American parents are worried that their kids’ privacy will be harmed by online advertisers, with 77% of those polled saying this happens often.
This is why it’s important to teach your kids the basics of digital citizenship. They need to understand that, just because they’re using technology, this doesn’t mean their privacy is at risk. Rather, it’s a case of better privacy management through awareness and education.
It’s been shown that just by being on the lookout for online privacy issues, kids can protect themselves. For example, when their parents are searching for private information about them, they will appear at the top of the search engine results page. While this can be helpful in teaching kids to be more private, it also means that they’re regularly exposed to this issue without necessarily understanding what it means or why they should be concerned.
Educating your children about privacy risks early on will help them navigate these complex issues effectively as adults. According to Future Inc., 72% of parents think that educating their children about online privacy risks is “very important,” compared to 24% who feel that it’s “somewhat important.” This underscores the pivotal role that parents play in their kids’ privacy security online.
Marketing to children via digital channels is highly-effective, as proven by the fact that 71% of parents think that this method of marketing is “somewhat acceptable,” compared to 19% who see it as “very unacceptable.”
This form of marketing appeals to our basest instincts as parents, as 89% of parents say that they feel “somewhat comfortable” when their children encounter ads online compared to just 10% who feel this way about traditional advertising.
That’s why it’s so important to teach your kids the rules of the web and how to navigate safely. They must learn to identify ads that are meant to be useful or beneficial to them and their family and know how to report them when they see them. It’s also crucial that they understand why some advertisements are useful and important, and why others are not, especially if they are designed to prey on their fears or sensitivities.
What About Mobile?
While we were initially driven by the need to protect our children from online risks, this issue has now expanded to include our smartphone usage. As the New York Times notes, the average American consumer now spends more time on their phones than they do actively engaged in social activities. This has enormous implications for our kids’ use of mobile technology, especially as the time spent on these devices increases with each new generation.
According to the New York Times, the average American consumer now spends more time on their phones than they do actively engaged in social activities. This has enormous implications for our kids’ use of mobile technology, especially as the time spent on these devices increases with each new generation. Kids are now subject to the risks that accrue from using these technologies, as well as the adults around them. This is why the need to protect kids online is becoming a major issue.
The Importance of Boundaries
Kids need boundaries too, and it’s important that these boundaries are established and respected by everyone in the family. According to Future Inc., parents need to be consistent in their enforcement of these boundaries, but understand that children will eventually learn to be independent.
Kids need to know what they’re allowed to do and what they’re not allowed to do online. For example, they should never share their personal information – like their phone number or email address – with anyone. This includes family members, friends, and even strangers. If they’re going to be interacting with other kids or grownups online, they should always use a fake email address and a fake name.
This way, if someone misbehaves or breaks the rules, the consequences won’t be as severe. Instead of having their personal information shared all over the web, they’ll simply have a bad experience that they can forget about. If this happens often enough, they’ll learn to keep their personal information private and stop sharing it with others online.
Creating boundaries and educating your children about the risks associated with technology can help them develop effective tools to navigate these complex issues effectively as adults. This will not only better their life, but also make them more independent and responsible future citizens.