What exactly do kids DO online?
Your 9 year old daughter is “quietly playing” on the internet in her bedroom. Your 14 year-old son is talking to his virtual army platoon via his Xbox Live videogame. Your 7 year-old son is battling other villages on his IPod Touch or IPad while playing Clash of Clans or Minecraft. Your 17-year old grandson is constantly taking photos and texting (sometimes during family meals).
Other than the texting during dinner example (which is equal parts disrespectful and infuriating), these scenarios seem fairly benign. Would it surprise you to know that every of these examples are wrought with potential risks?
Internet: Gateway to the World
Having access to the Internet is a necessary part of a modern child’s life. Global accessibility is what makes the Internet so incredibly useful and powerful, but it is also the very thing that makes it so potentially dangerous to a child.
Anytime children use a device which is Internet connected (laptop, tablet, gaming console, cell phone, camera, IPod Touch, etc.), you are inviting the entire universe into your home. You might as well go to bed with all of your windows and your front door wide open.
Playing quietly in the bedroom
Children should never have computers in their bedrooms, particularly if the laptop or computer has a webcam attached. Children as old as 13 years should be using devices in a public space in the home. Cyberbullying and sexual predation flourish in the dark. You should be able to read over your child’s shoulder without her seeing you coming. Moreover, make it clear that you have the right and the responsibility to review and overrule her behavior at any time.
Online and LIVE Gaming
Consoles like Xbox Live, which encourage playing with friends via an Internet connection, have the potential to connect strangers to your child. There have been many cases of attempted abductions after a child (thinking he is playing against another child) arranges to meet an online playmate IRL (in real life). Sexual predators groom these children over months and months, use voice modulators to make them sound young, and get to know your child before proposing an IRL meeting.
Gaming apps and the very young
Parents often make the mistake of providing their very young children (4-10) with Wi-Fi enabled devices such as an IPad or IPod Touch. There is a game called Clash of Clans, which is currently popular among this younger set. The game itself is quite benign: you build clans and cities and stage great battles. One of the main features of the game (building a clan) is open chat with clan mates. Young children are being asked for their address and personal information via this chatting feature. These children do not have the emotional or intellectual maturity to understand that their “clan mate” may want to do them harm.
Photos, sexting, and long-term impact
Sexting has become an enormous problem with children as young as 11 years old sending provocative and naked photos of themselves to friends. Our current generation of parents cannot relate to child pornography in any way. Just know that these children perceive these photos as “no big deal.” They do not understand that a child can be charged with creation of child pornography even when the photo is of himself. If that child sends that photo to a friend, he can be then charged with distribution of child pornography. Make no mistake, children are being charged and prosecuted as felons as a result of sexting. High school and college students have lost scholarships and college acceptances as a result. Some of these children have even been listed on child sex predator registries.
What to do?
As a parent, your single line of defense is education. In order to monitor effectively you must become educated in the devices, apps, and risks that your child is facing on a daily basis. The web offers infinite possibilities for education, socialization, and outreach; just make sure that your child is traveling through every part of her/his world safely.
Jesse Weinberger, www.overnightgeekuniversity.com/women/