Cyber safety for kids: Parents, the "first line of defence"
SOME of the dangers our kids face today as they go online through increasingly mobile internet devices:
- Access to pornography, violent content and other inappropriate sites
- Contact by sexual predators
- Inappropriate picture and video uploads (via mobile phone cameras)
- Direct access to social networking sites
- Difficulty for parents to monitor content and contacts accessed
- Phone text scams designed to steal personal information or money.
A big business
Recent studies credit the internet as the current leading technology for distributing hard-core pornography, grossing $13 billion annually, of which internet child pornography is a $3 billion per-year industry. It is reported that this abuse represents one of the fastest growing businesses online. As one commentary put it, our kids are thus potentially one click away from having a virtual sexual interaction or being exposed to material that were in the past only available on the black market.
This is a dangerous trend gaining popularity among tweens and teens using their mobile phone's built-in camera. It refers to the creation and exchanging of provocative, nude, sexual images of themselves. Results from a 2008 survey by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, one out of five tweens/teens surveyed reported that they had electronically sent or posted online, nude or seminude pictures or videos of themselves. The study notes that with an estimated 90 to 95 percent of school kids carrying cell phones, this is a trend parents cannot afford to ignore.
According to one internet study, almost 93% of kids (aged 12-17) go online. Peer pressure on tweens/teens could result in their uploading of provocative pictures and videos. They would also think nothing about posting their deepest personal experiences in online forums that are frequently accessible to the general public.
New online park for kids on safe surfing
In this context, it is noteworthy that a Singapore resource on online safety for children will be ready a year from now, by mid-2011. This was recently announced by MICA Acting Minister Lui Tuck Yew at an information security seminar at the Suntec Convention Centre. The Government-industry collaboration called Cyber Security Awareness Alliance will work with the National Crime Prevention Council to develop the online park. The online cyber park's objective - to enable tweens/teens to learn various facets of cyber wellness, safety and security via interactive mode such as educational online games. A timely development, notes Microsoft Singapore's managing director Ms Jessica Tan, a parent with three teens. She is also a Member of the Singapore Parliament, and lauded the cyber park's soft-sell approach of teaching about the online dangers in a fun and accessible way.
Role of parents
As industry-driven initiatives to protect kids going online often lag behind the actual dangers, parents are called to be ‘first line of defense’ against child online victimization. This is a challenge to parents and educators as the ones they wish to protect often generally have far superior knowledge of navigating the internet. So how can we overcome our feelings of being overwhelmed, uninformed, or ill-equipped to adequately protect our kids when they go online?
Tips for parents
- Engage your kids about what they are doing online.
Outline the risks about sex and relationships in the offline and online world.
- Check up on what your kids are posting online.
Make sure your kids understand that messages or pictures they send over the Internet or on their mbile phones are not truly private or anonymous. Ensure they know anyone can - and often will - forward their pictures of messages to others, especially in friendship break-ups.
- Know who your kids are communicating with online and via mobile phones.
Try checking who their friends are on internet messaging (IM), social networking and mobile device address/contact lists.
- Consider placing limits on electronic communication.
Check out the parental controls offered by your mobile provider. Many mobile carriers offer family plans that allow you to limit the amount and type of text messages your kids can send. Also disable attachments on text messages.
- Phone scams.
You might not know you or your children have been scammed, so it’s important to check invoices or online statements carefully for any unusual charges.
- Set expectations.
Make sure you are clear with your teen about what you consider appropriate behavior online and through text.