Protect your child against digital dangers
16 May 2012, 12:42
It’s the digital age, and children start using computers, cellphones and other digital devices
from a young age. As a result, children literally have the internet at
their fingertips. It is a rich resource for school projects and
assignments, and it’s the simplest method of finding information fast,
but the internet also presents a number of dangers for young users. The
advent of social networking allows children to communicate with anybody
and share information that might put them at risk.
Protecting children against these risks can prove challenging. Parents and educators should familiarise themselves with the internet, and specifically the different types of social networking platforms available in order to better understand the inherent dangers of each.
– an online collaboration platform that allows users to post public
comments, send private messages, upload photos, and join interest
groups. A common risk associated with the use of Facebook is phishing,
which occurs when a person or organisation uses someone’s login details
to gain access to that person’s account with the intention of obtaining
personal information and even bank details from the affected person and
his or her friends. The attacker can impersonate the user, sending
friends messages that appear to originate from the user, and can also
abuse friends’ trust to convince them to follow a link, install a
malicious program, or to log in to a Phishing site themselves.
– a micro-blogging site that lets users post short messages known as
“tweets”. Users can update their personal status or “tweet” messages to
any other Twitter account. This means that users can send personal
messages to celebrities, friends, or complete strangers. Cyber-bullying
has become a serious problem amongst Twitter users, in that bullies can
target the victim with hurtful messages and can spread malicious rumours
to anyone in the victim’s social circle at the touch of a button. This
can be emotionally harmful to a child. One of the problems is that it
often goes unnoticed by parents, especially if the parents are not
Twitter users themselves.
Skype – a program that allows users to
engage in real-time text-based conversations, make free phone calls, and
video calls to other users, over a contact-to-contact network. Skype
has become a preferred method for many sexual predators to find their
Live chat – there are numerous online chat rooms in which users can start a text-based conversation
with anyone who is using the chat room at the same time. Sexual
predators can pretend to be children or teenagers, using child-like
screen names and false photographs, with the intention of gaining the
trust of the other users in the chat room. Predators then befriend
children and try to encourage the child to agree to a face-to-face
Although there is no guaranteed way of ensuring that
children do not fall prey to these online dangers, there are a number of
preventative measures that can be taken. The first step for parents is
to ensure that the home computer and the child’s cell phone have the
appropriate safety features and blocks installed. This can be requested
from the relevant service providers when purchasing the product.
parents need to become comfortable with using the internet and gain an
understanding of how it works. Many of the tell-tale signs of a child at
risk can be picked up if parents understand the digital language and
the reference framework of the child.
It is also imperative that
the parent and child have an open discussion about the internet and its
pitfalls and lay down some ground rules. The child must understand that
giving out personal information such as addresses, school names and
contact numbers is dangerous. Parents should request that the privacy
settings on the child’s social networking accounts are strict. This
means that, where applicable, only the child’s trusted friends can view
the child’s photos and messages.
Finally, parents could consider
creating their own social media accounts in order to monitor the child’s
social interactions. Many children, especially teenagers, perceive this
to be intrusive and might be concerned about parents posting comments
or photos that may harm their reputation. It is therefore important for
parents to remain in the background and play an observing role rather
than an active role in the child’s social network.
benefits of the internet certainly outweigh the dangers. By putting the
right preventative measures in place, parents can ensure that children
are both empowered and kept safe.