In order to understand how to keep our children safe online we must first understand what online safety is and is not. Online safety is often misrepresented. Let's talk about what Online Safety is not before we discuss what it truly is. Online Safety is not limiting internet usage, overbearing internet monitoring, blocking websites, or the criminalization of websites like Facebook and Twitter.
The fact is children are curious about social media, the internet, instant messaging, all of the above and trying to implement these means to keep them safe is not effective. We can't be with our children 24-7/365, we have to teach them to be safe outside of our presence. We have to provide our children with the resources and education to make good choices.
Online safety is KNOWLEDGE. Blocking and restricting websites doesn't do anything positive for children in the long run. Teaching them to be safe online allows them to practice good habits for their entire life. The internet is one of the greatest tools for enhancing learning, however it can also be a dangerous place where kids find themselves alone, uneducated and facing tricky situations.
According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's 2006 report on Internet Safety & Kids, the numbers have increased dramatically. Online harassment has grown 50% in just five years and continues to increase. Although filtering software was used in 55% of homes with computers, exposure to unwanted sexual material continues to increase. Filters may have become too modest, or may be aimed at just blocking spam, viruses, or pop ups.
Slightly more than 1/3 of youth surveyed were exposed to unwanted sexual material while online. Three-fourths of American teenagers say they've been bullied online, but only one in ten tells a parent, according to a new survey by UCLA (2008). One in five U.S. teenagers who regularly log on to the Internet say they have received an unwanted sexual solicitation via the Web. Solicitations were defined as requests to engage in sexual activities or sexual talk, or to give personal sexual information. – Crimes Against Children Research Center.
What can we do to change these statistics and more importantly teach our children to avoid becoming victims? Kids really don't need to be on social media until a certain age. Decide when that is and talk to them about connecting with people they don't know on social media sites. Set a cut off time, your children don't need to spend every waking moment on the internet. Set a time of night that kids need to get off the internet for the day.
Bookmarks are a good option. For young children you may want to give them a set list of sites that they can visit. Even if you are not good at them, join in with your kids in online games. Take this time to talk to them about interacting with people online if a good opportunity comes up. Consider creating a pledge with your child. A pledge is a great way to ensure that your kids continue online safety. Post that pledge near the computer or in an area that your child will see it reminding them to practice safety online.
While undoubtedly beneficial, the internet can also be dangerous. Take the initiative to be open and honest with your children about the dangers of the internet. Keep these things in mind to help your kids have the best internet experience possible. You can't prevent everything, and you don't want to scare them, but you can minimize the dangers online to keep your kids safe.
On behalf of the Madison Police Department Cybersafety Team we wish you a safe 2016. As information, statistics, and tips become available we will get them posted on the Madison Police Department Website under the Cybersafety Team section. Please contact any member of our team with questions or concerns.
Police Officer Chanda Dolsen