Each night before our family says good night, all communication devices must be put on our kitchen counter to charge. More importantly, however, we want our children to be released from their Internet leashes and allowed to relax and sleep with no disruptions throughout the night.
This family rule has been adopted and infused as a common trait by many parents across the country, but unfortunately the greater concern for parents these days isn’t the devices or an Internet provider or service. Parents are more worried about the online predators sitting and surfing the Internet for children who sometimes open doorways to allow these threats into their personal spaces and social circles.
For the past four years, I have been part of a team responsible for keeping millions of students from all across the country safe from online predators, bullies, evil-intentioned adults and many other threats encountered while communicating with others from behind a screen. My eyes have been opened to the reality of what threats remain waiting in the weeds to attack students where they feel safe, and it’s scary.
A study from the American Psychological Association found some interesting results regarding Internet predators and today’s youth. The majority of Internet predators do not pose as children as many previously believed. Instead, the majority of these sickos openly tell their age and their intentions, and kids openly talk to them about their own sexual desires. Scary.
Today, parents need all the help they can get keeping their children safe and informed about online threats circling our communities. Since parents can’t be with their children 24/7 and most school-aged youth have some electronic communication tool in their hands, it is imperative that we, as adults, all work together to keep them safe. Some school districts have taken the appropriate actions to limit the communications of their students to sources related to school topics. This is a great first step, but it’s not the complete answer to ensuring that children are making the right choices when approached online.
Parents also must be reminded to be vigilant and always communicate with their children about what they’re searching and using the Internet for, how they are using their devices, and the amount of time they are allowed to enter the virtual world. These are all key steps to working with children on how to stay safe. Regular conversations about youth being exploited and harassed help them understand that they too can be a target for harm, even if they believe it can never happen to them.
We would never allow our high school students to take the keys of the family vehicle and head out to an expressway or highway alone, or without the proper training and licensure. In the same sense, parents must realize that allowing their most precious gifts to enter the virtual world unsupervised and untrained can have effects as disastrous as if they drove a half-ton vehicle at extreme speeds over a crowded interstate. Don’t only discuss online safety with children, but show them what acceptable Internet use looks like.
With each day, more online threats are discovered, and much more go undetected. Take the time to educate yourself, parents and students, and together we can join forces against the growing dangers found online.