In the last year, McAfee Inc., the well known provider of antivirus software and intrusion prevention solutions, released research which indicated that most American mothers rate their teenagers’ online safety, their exposure to drugs and drunk driving, as essentially equal anxiety producing agents.
So, were these mothers concerns justified?
You bet! While it’s true that the Internet can provide a rich educational and cultural experience for children, and teenagers, it is virtually impossible for them not to be exposed to, “the underbelly of the internet”.
One of the more harmful urban myths, which most adults believe is, we have raised, or are raising a “tech savvy” generation. This “truth” however, should not be taken at face value.
Simply because a teenager is more comfortable with technology than a parent, does not makes a teenager tech savvy. Knowing how to text message, or load a game onto an Xbox, does not make one “tech savvy”. It really is a situation where “they don’t know what they don’t know”, can have serious impact.
I fully understand where this idea of the tech savvy generation comes from – just listen to the mainstream media. The media constantly pontificates on how technically literate today’s young people are. The dichotomy is, these are the same young people whose literacy skills are insufficient to deal with their own education, never mind the complexities the techno world presents.
If you think this is an overstated argument, then consider this: According to a study of more than 19,000 college graduates, conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, only 31 percent can read a complex book and extrapolate from it. Without doubt, the world of Internet security is the most complex world I have ever inhabited.
Staying safe in today’s techno centric world demands knowledge, and acquiring that knowledge requires that a major effort be made to obtain it. Lacking in appropriate literacy skills makes the job of accumulating that knowledge a difficult undertaking.
It’s no wonder then, that the majority of children, and teenagers, are undereducated when it comes to recognizing the dangers, and threats, that the Internet poses to their personal privacy and safety.
Let me ask you this question – would you drop off your child, or teenager, in a neighborhood where more than half of the buildings were adult stores, and which was potentially full of predators?
In my view, if you allow your child, or younger teenager, to interact with the Internet unsupervised, or without having communicated to your child information concerning potential on-line dangers, this is what you may well be doing.
How much do you know about where your child goes on the Internet?
What social networking sites does your child subscribes to?
Who are their online friends and acquaintances?
What does your child post online and where is it posted?
If you don’t know the answers to these questions, you are not alone. Recent statistics make it clear that fully 80% of parents don’t know.
It’s easy to see why this knowledge gap exists; since reports indicate 8 of out of 10 parents give their children unrestricted access to the Internet, without implementing parental control settings.
Additional study statistics:
Providing personal information to online strangers – 52 per cent of teens in the study reported having done so.
Providing a photograph, or a physical description, to online strangers – 34 per cent of teenage girls in the study, reported having done so.
Clearing the browser cache so that their Internet history cannot be tracked – 32 per cent of the teenagers in the study, reported having done so.
I found the most surprising and troubling statistic to be; 16 per cent of the teenagers involved in the McAfee study, indicated they had developed social networking profiles and Email addresses, which they had hidden from their parents.
So what’s a concerned parent to do?
You can bring yourself and your teenager up to speed on online safety, by taking the “McAfee/Comcast Cyber Summer Safety Challenge”. You might be surprised at what you can learn.
Then, follow the advice offered by the FBI in the United States, which lists some of the most important positive actions, you as a parent, can take to reduce your teenagers possible victimization on the Internet.
According to the FBI, the following are some of the most important positive actions, you as a parent, can take to reduce your child’s possible victimization on the Internet.
Communicate, and talk to your child about potential on-line dangers.
Spend time with your children on-line. Have them teach you about their favorite on-line destinations.
Keep the computer in a common room in the house, not in your child’s bedroom.
Utilize parental controls provided by your service provider and/or blocking software.
Since computer-sex offenders are a very real danger on the Internet, the FBI suggests that you instruct your children to:
Never arrange a face-to-face meeting with someone they met on- line.
Never upload (post) pictures of themselves onto the Internet or an on-line service to people they do not personally know.
Never give out identifying information such as their name, home address, school name, or telephone number.
Never download pictures from an unknown source; there is a good chance there could be sexually explicit images.
Never respond to messages or bulletin board postings that are suggestive, obscene, belligerent, or harassing.
An important aspect of ensuring that your child is safe while using the Internet, (recommended by child safety experts/organizations), is the installation of parental control software.
Parental controls will provide you with the advantage of being able to:
Block access to materials (text and pictures) identified as inappropriate for kids.
Permit access only to materials specifically approved as safe for kids.
Specify what types of materials are appropriate for your child.
Monitor your child’s activity on the Internet by storing names of sites and/or snapshots of material seen by your child on the computer for you to view later.
Set different restrictions for each family member.
Limit results of an Internet search to content appropriate for kids
Enforce time limits set by parents.
If your operating system does not offer parental control features, and you would like to implement this, then check out my review, on this site, of a free application offered by WRAAC.org, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing free and effective Internet control tools – “Free Internet Child Protection – Parental Control Bar”.
An additional problematic issues is, the issue of sex, tech and teens; more precisely – teenaged sexting. For information on this current issue, please read “Sexting – A Real Problem or an Overreaction?” on this site.
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