Thursday, July 8, 2010

SUMMER INTERN GUEST POST - Kevin Elrod - How Can You Protect Your Children Online?

Topic:  Kids and Online Safety
Research by:  Kevin Elrod
Date: 7/08/10

TEASER/TITLE:  How Can You Protect Your Children Online?

The information world has seen tremendous technological advances within the last decade.  Now, with the internet available on almost all mobile devices, we can connect to each other anywhere at any time.  These technological advances are not without their dangers, however, as can be seen in the numerous cases of cyberbullying and ‘sexting’ in recent headlines. With the on-going advances in technology, we must do our best to make the younger generations aware of the ever-increasing hazards of growing up in a digital world.

·      Information security is critical because anyone in the world can access your home address, credit card numbers, and other essential information
·      Online reputations must be managed with care in order to insure future job opportunities
·      In a survey conducted by i-SAFE Inc. during the 2003-2004 school year, 53% of kids admitted to being involved in an instance of cyberbullying

Throughout the 1980’s having a personal computer was considered a luxury.  Today, however, owning a computer is considered a staple for almost every household across America.  With the internet reaching critical mass during the 1990’s and the recent advances of web access in almost all mobile devices thereafter, information is more accessible than ever.  The younger generations have had to adapt to these technological changes from an early age, and it is safe to say that not all have acquired safe habits when browsing online.  Many children do not realize exactly how much information they are handing out when visiting certain websites or chatting with random people.
Much of the dangers of the internet lie in social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.  Last year saw the biggest boom in social media websites, and now 110 million Americans currently spend an average of an hour a day visiting these sites.  Anonymity plays a major role when it comes to online profiles because anyone can create them with ease.  This provides the breeding ground for such dangers as online predators and cyberbullying.  Children who are unaware of these dangers may fall to prey, and their reputations and even their lives could be in serious danger.

·      Social networking is carrying over onto mobile devices with rapid progression making information even more accessible than ever before.  According to a survey conducted in the UK by Mobile Media Metrics, people on average spent 45.2 minutes a day accessing Facebook through a cell phone as opposed to accessing the same site 32.4 minutes a day through a PC.
·      With the average social media user having 128 friends/followers we are beginning to build more professional and recreational connections online than in real life.
·      With the anonymity provided through the internet cyberbullying is becoming increasingly widespread due to its natural cycle – kids who are bullied later tend to display cyberbullying behavior without considering the consequences.

Part of the plan to make the internet a safer place for kids is to teach them safe online habits at an earlier age.  According to the Online Safety Technology Working Group (OSTWG) a growing importance of “media-literacy” and “online citizenship” is what is needed to guarantee kids practicing safe online habits.  They stress that instead of focusing on certain dangerous content, we need to perceive youth as active citizens of the internet who can be both view and create its content.  In order to be a responsible “citizen” of the web, young people must understand that everything they put on the internet will be seen by others.  Keeping your private information private is one of the best ways to insure your protection against online predators and stalkers.

Another way to become an honest “citizen” includes knowing how to behave on social networking websites.  We need to make our youth aware that an increasing number of employers are beginning to look at social media websites to gain information about their future employees.  This is one of the easiest ways for a young person to damage his or her reputation at an early stage.  Of course, cyberbullying has also been a trending topic in recent years due to growth of these networking sites.  Hateful messages, bashing, and death threats are just some of the things that are being sent to and from children over the safety of the web.  These hateful acts can have drastically negative effects on a child’s self-esteem, confidence, and sense of security.  Although most people choose to ignore such acts when they see them, action must be taken if possible to prevent any further cases.

·      Make kids more “media-literate” by teaching them safe online habits at an early age
·      Make young people aware of the fact that employers have begun glancing at the online profiles of their future employees.  CBS news recently did a report on this trend and described an internet company called Ziggs where people can create online business profiles which come up first in most internet searches.
·      In cases of cyberbullying save the evidence and talk to a trusted adult about the problem
·      Get to know a child’s online world by having him/her show you around the sites he/she most frequently visits
·      Teach your children how to behave respectfully online.  Tell them that everyone they connect with on the internet is a real person with emotions and that they should be respected just like the people they interact with in real life
·      Learn how to use Facebook’s new simplified privacy settings at


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