Keeping Kids Safe Online

The New Wild West

The world wide web is a good thing, mostly. We can connect with long-distance family, order all of our Christmas gifts at the last minute with two-day guaranteed shipping, look up our medical symptoms to see if we've got some rare disease or the common cold, get our kids math tutoring for free, and so much more. Convenience with a click. The convenient factor isn't limited to the good parts, though.

My 15-year-old son is fortunate to have a school with a Cyber Patriot program that teaches participating students cyber security. This is his second year participating, and his school's teams are pretty competitive in the national competition. While I've taught myself a few HTML coding tricks, my teenage sons can run circles around me. This is the world in which we live--one where our kids are running full speed ahead of us. 

In the Cyber Patriot program my son is learning about the dangers in the cyber world. He recently told me, "Mom, the internet is the darkest corner of society." He's right. The internet gives people a false mask. Hiding behind the screen seems to provide criminals anonymity, an extra layer of protection against accountability. It's the perfect setting for criminal activity.

It's interesting that, as parents, we make our kids wear helmets, knee pads, and elbow guards to ride their bikes down the street, but then we give them electronic devices without any guards and release them into the Wild West Web, isn't it? Whether we see the danger or not, it's real. So, below are some tips, tools, and resources we can use to protect and arm our kids against online crime.

Internet Crimes Against Children - The Statistics

The United States Department of Justice conducted a survey in 2001 (you can find the original publication here), and while the information is now 15 years old, the results of that survey are sobering.
  • One in 5 youth received a sexual approach or solicitation over the Internet that year. 
  • One in 33 youth received an aggressive sexual solicitation that year. This means a predator asked a young person to meet somewhere, called a young person on the phone, and/or sent the young person correspondence, money, or gifts through the U.S. Postal Service. 
  • One in 4 youth had an unwanted exposure to pictures of naked people or people having sex. 
  • One in 17 youth was threatened or harassed over the course of the year.
  • Most young people who reported these incidents were not very disturbed about them, but a few found them distressing. 
  • Only a fraction of all episodes was reported to authorities such as the police, an Internet service provider, or a hotline. 
  • About 25 percent of the youth who encountered a sexual approach or solicitation told a parent. 
  • Almost 40 percent of those reporting an unwanted exposure to sexual material told a parent. 
  • Only 17 percent of youth and 11 percent of parents could name a specific authority, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), CyberTipline, or an Internet service provider, to which they could report an Internet crime, although more indicated they were vaguely aware of such authorities. 
  • In households with home Internet access, one-third of parents said they had filtering or blocking software on their computers.

Did you gift your kids new electronics for the holidays? Visit Common Sense Media and read "The Essential Apps Guide" to learn about apps that can keep your kids' electronics safe.

Teach your kids about safe civil use of the web by checking out Connect Safely. You'll find links on use of Snapchat and other Social Media sites, guides to help your kids filter through fake online news, guides to teach your kids about data privacy, and much, much more.