When the topic of kids and the internet arise in just about any conversation, the subject of cyberbullying is rarely far behind. It’s one of the most prominent issues children and teens are facing today. Unfortunately, it’s not the only thing parents should be concerned about when it comes to their children using the internet.
Online predators, posting private information and hackers phishing for information are just a few more of the problems we have to watch out for as our kids learn how to be responsible digital citizens. Here are just a few issues adults can keep an eye out for when it comes to the internet and our children.
The Safety of Social Media Apps
It seems like every month there’s a new social media app that all of the kids are clamoring to use. First it was Facebook, then Instagram, then Snapchat, and most recently it’s TikTok. TikTok allows users to post short videos, usually of choreographed dances (although short comedic sketches have been inching their way up the ranks as of late), for their friends and followers to see. The app incorporates hashtags for easier searching, has the latest musical hits and in general, comes across as a really fun mobile application aimed at children and teens.
However, many of these applications make it difficult to determine what the companies are doing with the information needed to set up an account. Just recently TikTok was hit with major cybersecurity concerns about the information stored from each user ranging from location to information about the device the app is being used on.
So far, nothing particularly dangerous has been done with the information but it’s still important for parents to be aware and it presents a great opportunity to discuss with your children what you should and should not post online. The good news is that features like GPS tracking can be turned off, but the problem is that many don’t know it was tracking location to begin with. Before you let your kids download any social media apps, take some time to do some research on the features of the app and decide from there if it’s something you deem safe for your children.
The Presence of Online Predators
There are a number of online games specifically marketed to kids, but parents should be aware it’s not always other kids your children are playing with. Little ones are taught from an early age the importance of knowing about stranger danger, but strangers seem a lot less scary if they’re posing as a friendly opponent in a seemingly innocent online game. Sex trafficking continues to be on the rise and, unfortunately, many predators use online personas to lure kids into situations where they can be kidnapped and sold into sex trafficking rings.
In 2018, the National Human Trafficking Hotline received over 7,000 reports of sex trafficking in the United States alone. Many times sex traffickers pose as friends or someone interested in pursuing a romantic relationship as it’s easier to then manipulate the younger population with that level of control. While all of this might seem like it’s taken directly from a Hollywood movie script, it’s crucial that parents are aware of the potential dangers relating to online predators. The better-informed parents are about sex trafficking, the easier it is for them to know the potential signs of a dangerous interaction unfolding online.
The Internet and Mental Health
In 1998, the term “internet addiction” was officially coined and as of now, the DSM-5 recognizes the problem as an official mental disorder. As the use of smartphones and mobile devices has become more and more prevalent, it should come as no shock that the number of those suffering from internet addiction has increased as well. It’s especially prevalent in the younger population with stats showing that children between the ages of eight to ten spend 11 hours a day in front of a screen on average.
Teens and children who suffer from internet addiction typically have poor planning skills, have issues with control and spend an excessive amount of time on the internet, and these things set them up to have more mental health issues down the line. Just like cyberbullying has lasting effects like depression, internet addiction can disrupt their school life with poor grades and shorter attention spans. Plus, as noted previously, these things have a domino effect later on in life as poor planning and impaired control can have an effect on finding a successful career.
While cyberbullying is a major problem among teens and children, it’s important that adults are aware of other potential issues as well. We all want the best for our children, but if we don’t know the potential risks, it makes it hard for us to educate them on our reasoning behind our decisions. As long as we continue to stay educated on the evolving trends surrounding the internet and social media, we’ll be in a better position to help our children make smarter decisions now and in the future as well.