The Internet - Protecting Your Child

The 21st century is known as the technological era, with children being the digital natives knowing more about online games than outdoors games. This is to be expected as they have grown up in a technological world with internet and computers taking centre stage, making them completely at ease with any virtual devices; and at a very young age.

While it is intriguing to see an 8-year-old navigating the internet, maintaining blogs, playing online games and chatting with friends via instant messaging services, one must be aware of the dangers this poses. The child may be aware of the technical aspects of the services, however he/she does not understand the more profane features such as pornographic websites and exploitative online predators. Despite being a strong educational resource for children, there are certain websites which must be avoided to keep an innocent mind safe.

This article will discuss the different dangers of the internet from pornographic websites and cyber-bullying to computer viruses and identity theft. It will examine in detail how these dangers can affect your child and also what you can do to keep your children safe in the virtual world.

The dangers of the internet

The internet may seem an endless abyss of hopeful possibilities, but with these advantages come a great deal of dangers taking various forms. Below are some of the most prominent internet hazards that parents are currently facing.

1. Unsuitable websites

It is common knowledge that the internet has become a pornographer's playground. Regardless of whether you are a high volume internet user or not, the fact is that these obscene sites are there and can be a hazard to your child. Many young children stumble upon these websites by following a pop-up link or clicking on some URL sent to their email without understanding the consequences. Generally older children and teenagers understand the content and may be seeking it out, but younger children usually come across these sites by accident and may be disturbed emotionally by the content.

In addition to different types of pornography, there are numerous gambling sites bombarding search engines and social networking sites. Other popular unwanted sites include features promoting drugs, guns and other adult content that children should not be viewing.

2. The danger of social networking

Facebook and Twitter have become incredibly popular as social networking sites where individuals will chat and share different photographs, links and videos. They are a highly effective means of staying in touch with friends or even locating old acquaintances. Facebook requires a minimum age of 13 to register, however this can be bypassed by providing a false birth date and has caused many problems among younger children who do not understand social network protocol.

One of the primary issues with social networking sites is the difficulty with privacy settings. The default settings are very lax and to obtain high levels of privacy and security you are required to place the parameters yourself. It is important your children are provided with the correct level of security to ensure they do not share any personal details on their Facebook profiles such as an address or home telephone number. While it may not seem a serious matter, one must realise that sexual predators trawl these social networking sites and may take advantage of these sorts of personal details.

3. Online games

Nowadays, the most popular online games are the virtual online world games that allow for a more specific type of player-to-player interaction. While the original RPGs also require a player-to-player interaction this is in the context of a game and usually involves battling of some sort. The virtual world games, like Habbo Hotel or Moshi Monsters, require one to create an online avatar and socialise with others in a simulated reality.

These games are generally free with a very simple setup procedure which makes them appealing to children of all ages. Often children will meet with friends in these virtual realities and make new friends by chatting to them online. While each interaction is monitored by a moderator there is always the chance that they are talking to an adult instead of another child. It has been seen that many paedophiles utilise these websites to 'prime' children and establish the child's trust in the hope of organising a real world meeting where anything could happen. It is difficult to detect adults among the children as they use childlike names and innocent chat.

4. Physical ill health

Research has indicated that the technological generation are suffering from greater levels of childhood ill health, physically and psychologically. It is suggested that children from this era will see more bone decay, heart disease and hypertension in later years. One cause of this highly worrying deterioration in physical health is the fact that children spend the majority of their day on the internet. By sitting motionless at a desk or on their bed it is obvious your child is not getting fresh air or exercise and may be causing long-term damage to their eyesight from peering into a computer for so many hours.

5. Cyber-bullying

For a long time the majority of people assumed cyber-bullying was nothing more than some hurtful emails. The introduction of social networking sites and IM services has escalated the effects of cyber-bullying to the extent where some teenagers have attempted suicide due to the mass of hurtful messages. Furthermore, the Photoshop and Gimp services allow for individuals to create and produce unflattering pictures of others which can lead to dangerous insults, taunts and even threats towards the relevant individual. As there is no physical damage parents will often not notice the effects of cyber-bullying.

Methods to keep your child safe

There are various methods which one may use to ensure you child's safety when on the internet. The most popular of these options is a nanny software such as Net Nanny. The nanny software is a parental guidance programme that blocks any sites which may have unsuitable and inappropriate content. It also masks any profanities on websites which are not blocked or are deemed suitable. Furthermore, Net Nanny provides one with the option to monitor your child's social networking account and ensure nothing unsavoury is happening.

Most ISPs, such as Sky broadband, BT broadband,Talk Talk and so on, also have parental control systems to help you take charge.

In conclusion, while the internet may be highly beneficial to a child it can also be highly dangerous. It is important you have an understanding of the different internet hazards and how to handle them. 

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