Almost everyone is using the internet these days. We use it for shopping, banking, research, socializing, and gaming to name a few ways. Although using the internet in these ways is convenient and fun, it also comes with certain risks. The internet provides a way for people to participate in various dishonest behaviors including stealing identities, preying on vulnerable children, and cyberbullying. By being aware of the various internet dangers, adults can keep themselves safe as well as protect their children.
Our interaction with the world has been drastically changed by the internet. We have access to tools allowing us to express our creativity, vast amounts of knowledge on every subject imaginable, and individuals throughout the world. The internet offers a new, fascinating way to make connections, but it also comes with various risks. As parents, we not only have to protect ourselves from these risks, but we must protect our children as well. There are various avenues for exposure to identity theft, inappropriate material, online predators, cyberbullying, email phishing scams, and much more. Recognizing warning signs will help us take action by intervening to help lessen what could potentially have an extremely negative impact. By staying well-informed on internet safety related topics, we can protect our children by communicating these dangers and make sure their internet experience remains a fun, safe place for the entire family.
Email, IM, Chat Rooms
Text messaging is the preferred means of communication by teenagers more than instant messaging and email but both, as well as chat rooms, are an important aspect in online communication. In order to join in on certain websites, an email account is required therefore it is important to address these internet safety issues as well. These means of communication allows a person to communicate with family and friends as well as connect to strangers. This makes a child vulnerable to predators, scam artists, and cyberbullies. Understanding these services and the risks associated with them, will help adults provide a safe online experience for children.
Email messages can have picture, audio, and text messages attached to them. It is simple to sign up for an email account and most do not verify the user’s identity. This allows for scam artists, cyberbullies, or predators to send messages anonymously. Instant messaging is the exchange of messages in real-time with email contacts or other friends but again, the real identity of these “friends” may not be known. In chat rooms, users tend to not know the people they talk to outside of the internet. They also allow for private chats and predators may use this for entice children to meet offline or to talk about things sexual in nature. Being aware of how this can be done anonymously, parents should be sure to closely monitor their child’s use of technology and talk to them about these dangers.
Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, and Bebo are a few popular social networking websites that kids enjoy using. They provide easy ways for sharing lives with family and friends as well as other benefits but there are also risks involved. Many teenagers share too much personal information such as mobile phone numbers, full birth dates, and addresses in their about section which is easily viewed by friends even when the page settings are private. Again, it is easy for dishonest individuals to set up fake accounts and befriend your child. Oftentimes these websites are used to share illegal or inappropriate content which could endanger future employment or academic opportunities. Social networking websites have many features including e-mail accounts, blogs, friend’s lists, instant messaging, comment walls, status updates, pictures, and videos. Although not all social networking websites are the same, these basic features provide various internet communications in one place making your child at risk for the dangers associated with them.
Most of us know what bullying is. Perhaps we were bullied as children or our child is being bullied now. It’s no fun and can be very emotionally damaging. Cyberbullying simply takes the concept of the playground bully and moves it to technology. This bullying takes place through internet technologies and applications such as cell phones, instant messaging, and social networking websites. It may start with a photo, forwarded message, or a rumor and quickly spiral uncontrollably.
Victims can be a target in any given place, at any given time. If a child starts avoiding conversations about using the computer, avoids technology all together, appears stressed, exhibits self-esteem issues, shows a decline in grades, or decreased sleeping and eating habits, they may be dealing with some form of cyberbullying. Your child may not be the victim but maybe they are participating in the cyberbullying of someone else. . The first way to work to prevent this is to educate on the seriousness of the issue. This could help stop it before it even starts. The following links will provide more information on ways you can prevent cyberbullying.
The internet has made banking and shopping online convenient for millions of people in the United States. This also means that social security numbers and other personal information is shared exposing them to identity theft. Personal information can be obtained by stealing from homes, wallets, purses, mailboxes, or rummaging through a person’s garbage. Information can also be obtained electronically through pretexting, pharming, and phishing. After personal information has been obtained, the thieves can use it to charge credit cards, open other accounts, lease property, apply for a license to drive, and take out loans in your name. Before entering any personal information be sure to examine the website closely. If there is a lock symbol or an “https” in the web address bar then the web page is secure and safe. It is also important to warn your friends and family of these dangers as well.
The internet has increased opportunities for predators to prey on their victims. They have opportunities to communicate through chat rooms, social networking websites, instant messaging, message boards, and cell phones. They do not fit any particular stereotype and many predators are not pedophiles. Pedophiles target very young children whereas predators tend to target those who engage in risky behavior. They may offer attention and gift as a way to entice the child’s natural vulnerabilities and they take their time gaining the person’s trust.
This is not something a child tends to openly talk about so be aware of the warning signs. These include withdrawing from friends and family, minimizing the computer screen or turning the monitor off when someone enters the room, calls from unrecognized numbers, excessive computer use, or anger when they cannot use the computer. Communication is always the key to prevention. Warn children of the dangers and reassure them that it is okay to talk to you or another adult they trust should they run into an online predator.
Cell Phones and Sexting
Cell phones may not be thought of when discussing internet dangers but many now have the capabilities to receive instant messages, emails, images, and texts. Many parents do not think to monitor cell phone use but these are simply extensions of internet use and the same safeguards should be employed. Cell phones not only provide predators and cyberbullies with easier access to your child, they also enable sexting. This is the sending and receiving of messages and images that are sexually explicit. When this type of thing is sent by a minor, it could be illegal and referred to as child pornography even if it was sent by the child.
There is also a chance the images could find their way on the internet jeopardizing employment, athletic, and scholastic opportunities. The emotional damage this could cause your child is an unbearable thought. Teenagers may send sexually explicit images and messages from feeling pressured or they may not take the consequences seriously. Discuss this with your child. After they send that photo, what happens next is completely out of their control. When it comes to sexting, no one should be trusted. Should the person holding the photos in their phone ever get angry, they could make a hasty decision that will cause a lifetime of regret for the sender.
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