Children now spend so much time online that the term "digital parenting" has been invented to help parents recognize and address the dangers lurking on the internet.
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There are some disturbing statistics that point to the need for vigilance. For example, 65% of 8-14 year olds have been involved in a cyberbullying incident. Perhaps even more disturbing is the fact that of the 12% of tweens that report already having been bullied online, only 6% of their parents were aware of the problem. Many young people are so afraid of being restricted from going online and being left out of that increasingly important social aspect of life that they often don't tell their parents about potentially harmful or dangerous situations. They can be so secretive that 86% of girls claimed that they would be able to chat online without their parents knowing. 54% believed that they could successfully hide the existence of a cyber-relationship from their parents. Just as there is now "digital parenting", there is also "digital abuse". Digital abuse is defined as repeated unwanted calls, texts, or instant messages, violations of privacy, or pressure to send private photos. It has become so rampant that it has prompted the formation of organizations dedicated to raising awareness of the issue.
Shockingly enough, the largest group of internet porn consumers are aged 12-17. While 31% of young people report having lied about their age to enter an adult website, 70% of young people aged 7 to 18 report having accidentally encountered online porn, often while online doing homework. 20% of teen-agers report having been the target of unwanted sexual overtures or requests for personal information. Most of this sexual harassment is witnessed by friends, yet parents are usually not told. The number of child abuse domains online more than doubled from 3,433 in 2004 to 10,656 by 2006. By 2011, the problem had grown so pervasive that Shawn Henry, the Executive Assistant Director at the FBI, estimated that there are approximately 750,000 child predators online. In 2012, the Center for Missing and Exploited Children announced that there were a total of 747,408 registered sex offenders in the U.S. For that reason, the FBI has issued a safety challenge for third to eighth grade students. What you can do as a parent is to look into getting a solid suite of Internet security software. The more advanced ones (like ESET SS 9 for example) have the feature called Parental Control - this is what you need. It allows you to block certain predefined website categories or even add your own custom rules.
There has also been a startling increase in the number of children addicted to online gaming. The same parts of the brains of gaming addicts are activated when they see images of computer games as those of drug addicts. Experts conducting various studies on gaming addiction have shown that between 2% and 12% of young people are addicted to gaming, and collectively agree that 5% is the best estimate. Multi-player online gaming in which players become a part of a virtual world was found to be the most addicting. In response to the growing amount of time young people spend in front of a screen, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended limiting children's overall screen time, which includes television and movies as well as the internet, to one or two hours per day.
Despite the many potential dangers the internet can pose for children, only 1/3 of online households utilize antivirus software with a parental control feature that allows parents to filter or block inappropriate websites. With technology advancing so rapidly, it has become difficult for even the most conscientious parents to keep up. As new apps are developed and become wildly popular, they are accompanied by new concepts, new language, and cultural changes. The Family Online Safety Institute is dedicated to developing best digital parenting practices and educating parents about the latest technological developments, their usesóand their abuses. Among their recommendations are the use of parental controls and maintaining open communication with your child. While parents remain important sources of caring, wisdom, and experience for their children, it's important to remember that, especially when it comes to technology, parents can learn a lot from their children as well. Asking your child to teach you about some of their favorite apps is a great way to open some windows into their online world. Despite their high- tech savvy, even today's youth are still young, inexperienced, and in need of our protection.
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What Parents Can Do
Itís important to work with your children to develop a reasonable internet usage policy that clearly outlines rules and privileges, as well as the consequences for breaking those rules. Itís equally important to follow through with enforcing those consequences if the rules are broken. If youíre looking for ideas, the Cyberbullying Research Center has a sample contract you can use as a guide. Once the contract has been developed, post it near the computer as a constant quick reference.
Online safety requires that children be educated about the potential dangers of the internet. A great way to make sure that they fully understand those dangers is by having them take a pledge to adhere to the basics of internet safety. One of the most basic foundations of internet safety is learning the importance of internet privacy. Teach your children to keep personal information such as addresses and phone numbers, photos and passwords, private. They should also be taught what to do if they feel that their privacy is being violated.
While computers are no longer the only access to the internet, itís still a good idea to keep home computers in common areas to more easily monitor usage. Respecting your childís privacy and building trust is important, but occasionally checking their browsing history can provide valuable information about what websites your child visits regularly. You should also check computers, tablets and smartphones often for any new apps that may have been downloaded.
There are now software applications capable of completely erasing a computerís browsing history. Online predators, targeting impressionable young people struggling to achieve emotional independence from their parents, often suggest that they download these apps to be able to communicate without their parentsí knowledge. There are also applications such as Foursquare, Gowalla, and Loopt that track every movement that the user makes. While always knowing your childís location may be comforting, that information, in the hands of the wrong person, can be extremely dangerous.
Finally, itís important that parent educate themselves about the warning signs of cyber-bullying. Those signs can include changes in appetite, sleeping patterns and even social behavior. For example, a victim of cyber-bullying may suddenly begin saying they donít feel well and requesting to stay home from school more frequently. In a world of rapidly changing technology, keeping your child safe online can be challenging. The good news is that parental control technology is keeping up.