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From Pixels to Protection: How to Keep Children Safe Online

Written by Amina Allison 

It is not gain saying that the Internet is now our second world. Since the outbreak of Covid-19, almost every activity has become virtualized and spending a week offline could make you feel blind. The Internet is now so crucial a part of life that keeping children off such advancement could be detrimental to society. There are online platforms for education, easy communication, as well as entertainment that are important to the formative years of children.

However, with the great benefits come great risks. The International Telecommunications Union reports that 1 in 3 children globally has internet access at home, and according to UNICEF, every half second a child goes online for the first time around the world. In addition, statistics from NetSmartz (an online effort by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children), show that ninety-three per cent of kids aged 12 to 17 are online, and 75 per cent of the same age group have cell phones; seventy-three per cent of teens have social media profiles with almost half uploading pictures of themselves. It has never been this easy for children to be online. The days are unlike past years when with just a remote control parents can easily regulate what goes into the minds of their kids. Now, children can travel to hell and back exposing themselves to danger, consuming every kind of content and interacting with any kind of person with just a phone connected to the internet.

Prevailing Dangers Against the Safety of Children Online

An expansive array of dangers abound online lurking around to engulf children.

Cyberbullying

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According to Safewise, more than 36% of kids aged 12–17 have been cyberbullied at some point in their life. Cyberbullying is a form of bullying or harassment that occurs using electronic means. It can take place on social media, messaging platforms, gaming platforms, and mobile phones. Cyberbullying includes sending, posting, or sharing negative, harmful, false, or mean content about someone else. It can also include repeatedly making fun of another person online, picking on another person through e-mail or text messages, or posting something online about another person that they don’t like.

Exposure to Harmful Content

Harmful online content for kids constitutes materials that are not suitable for children due to their potentially harmful, explicit, or age-inappropriate nature. In a recent report by Bark, over 55% of children between the ages of 10 and 12 have been exposed to violent content on the internet, and nearly 60% have come across sexually explicit words or images. As a result, some 80% of children in 25 countries report feeling in danger of sexual abuse or exploitation online.

Cyber Grooming

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Cyber grooming is when an adult befriends a child online and builds an emotional connection with future intentions of sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, or trafficking. The main goals of cyber grooming are to gain the trust of the child and to obtain intimate and personal data from the child (often sexual, such as sexual conversations, pictures, or videos) to threaten and blackmail for further inappropriate material. Female children are more susceptible to cyber grooming with 78% of victims being girls and 82% of perpetrators, men as reported by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Computer Security Issues

Malware and phishing: Malware is a harmful software which when downloaded or installed in a computer accesses information, destroys files or damages the system. Phishing is a manipulative way of obtaining sensitive information from someone. Children may unknowingly download malware or fall victim to phishing scams, which can compromise their devices and expose them to cybercriminals This can lead to identity theft or unauthorized access to sensitive information.

Privacy concerns: Children may unintentionally share personal information online, such as their full name, address, or school, which can put them at risk. This information can be used by malicious individuals for various purposes.

Online scams and fraud: Scammers and fraudsters are always on the chase for gullible individuals. Children may be targeted by scams or fraudulent activities online, such as fake contests, surveys, or offers. They may unknowingly provide personal or financial information, leading to financial loss or other consequences.

Collaborative Efforts to Ensure Online Safety for Children

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As much as it takes the whole village to raise a child, it is equally the collective responsibility of everyone to keep children safe online. The government, organizations, teachers, parents, guardians and community members must put all hands on deck to ensure children’s online safety. Here are some practical safety guidelines for each group:

Parents:

  • Educate children about online safety: Teach your children about the dangers of sharing personal information online, interacting with strangers, and cyberbullying.
  • Engage in open communication: Foster an atmosphere of honest conversations with your children and frequently inquire about their online experiences and address any concerns they may have.
  • Set age-appropriate boundaries: Set restrictions on online activities based on your children’s maturity level. This could include rules about what websites they can visit, who they can talk to, and how much time they can spend online.
  • Set parental controls: Use parental controls to block inappropriate websites and content. This could be done through the internet service provider, the operating system, or the device itself.
  • Monitor your children’s online activity: Frequently check their browser history, social media accounts, and text messages.
  • Update your devices and software regularly.
  • Install a rigorous antivirus product on your systems.

Government:

  • Enact and enforce cyber regulations that hold online platforms accountable for guaranteeing children’s safety, data protection, and age-appropriate content.
  • Collaborate with technology companies to provide safe online environments and implement features like age verification and content moderation.
  • Fund and support digital literacy programs that educate children about online safety and responsible internet use.
  • Establish a national helpline or reporting system where both children and adults can anonymously report online safety concerns.

Organizations:

  • Develop clear and strict safety policies to protect children using your platforms or services.
  • Conduct regular safety audits of content and features to identify and address potential risks.
  • Provide parents with easy-to-use control tools to manage their children’s online activities.
  • Partner with online safety experts and organizations to improve children’s online safety measures.

Teachers:

  • Incorporate digital literacy and online safety lessons into the curriculum to teach students about responsible internet use.
  • Create a supportive environment where students feel safe to report incidents of cyberbullying and intervene when necessary.
  • Organize workshops to educate parents about online safety and how to protect their children.

Members of the community:

  • Participate in community-led initiatives to raise awareness of children’s online safety.
  • Support schools and organizations working to promote online safety.
  • Report harmful or inappropriate online content to appropriate authorities.

The Internet has brought ease and convenience to a great number of endeavours, however, great risks abound with the ease. Though children cannot be restricted from the use of the internet because of these risks, the right safeguards need to be implemented to ensure their safety online. And everyone is needed to cast their stone on the build-up of these safeguards. Together, we can ensure children grow up in a safe environment both offline and online so they can become healthy adults tomorrow.