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Stranger Danger

October 29, 2012 at 9:20 AM

Stranger Danger

 

Did you know that more young children today can play a computer game than swim or ride a bike? According to a study commissioned by AVG, 58% play computer games, 20% know how to swim and 52% can ride a bike. 

Perhaps the most shocking stat is that 69% of kids aged 2-5 are on computers and probably know just enough to get into trouble online. 

In our daily world of co-presence, we warn our children about strangers and how to be street smart; however, we often overlook the necessity to keep our kids safe in cyberspace. The sad story of Amanda Todd from Coquitlam, British Columbia, Canada, is a frightening reminder of how badly things can go for a young person using online, social media. Amanda was a victim of online sexual exploitation and relentless bullying from peers. Her life ended in a tragic suicide.

 Although you might not consider it, our children are at as much risk surfing the net as running around the streets unsupervised. The main message we’ve provided our children is to distrust strangers in the physical world, but we’ve fallen short on how to prepare them for cyber strangers, especially since social media provides a false sense of intimacy that young and old alike desire in daily life.

 It’s that yearning for connection that unscrupulous people exploit via the Internet. You might think the other person you are communicating with has your best interests at heart, but there is no way to verify the character or intent of another person using online social media.

 Experts agree, there are common sense ways to protect your kids from cyber threats. Here are a few options to consider: 

  • Install the computer your kids use in an open part of your house like the living room or kitchen. Experts warn about putting any kind of screen in a child’s bedroom or a secluded location like the basement.
  • Prevent young children from using social media sites, as these are often areas exploited by people who are up to no good.
  • Limit all screen time in general. You can link it to a reward system where she accumulates time in exchange for good behaviour, doing well at school or helping around the house.
  • Install and maintain parental control software on your PC. You might consider some of these options by reputable, computer-security, software companies. You can buy piece of mind for about $40-$50 per year, which is a great bargain for security measures when you aren’t around.
  • Don’t rely on free versions of anti-spyware; they lack the layers of security your PC requires to protect against unwanted intrusion and can be unknowing sources of malware and gateways to cybercriminals.
  • Set up a folder of appropriate web sites your child can visit, e.g. PBSKids.org or www.knowledgekids.ca
  • Model the behaviour you want your kids to follow, so keep your surfing in check so you don’t accidentally expose them or yourself to cyber criminals.
  • On play dates, explain your limits to your child’s use of the Internet. When you are the host, express your expectations to the parents of your child’s friend(s) and to all the children you’re hosting.
  • Stay informed with potential threats by visiting resources about media use by children and teens. 

Digital skills are a necessity in today’s technologically dominated world, but parents have to find a balance between too much screen time and family time. There’s no magic bullet or formula to protect your children in cyberspace, but you can increase the odds of keeping them safe by taking preventative measures, talking about potential risks and modeling the behaviour you want from your kids. 

Once they leave the home, you can’t control your kid’s behaviour, and as they grow into young adults, you can hope that all the measures you’ve taken can provide them with enough information to make good choices.

 



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Marc Arellano

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Marc Arellano teaches communication at Okanagan College in British Columbia, Canada. He has worked as a technical writer, editor and copy writer.His current academic interests focus on computer-mediated communication and the effects of new media on culture.

Marc Arellano enseigne les communications au Collège de l'Okanagan en Colombie-Britannique. Il a travaillé en tant que rédacteur, éditeur et concepteur-rédacteur. Ses intérêts académiques actuels mettent l'emphase sur la communication au moyen d'un ordinateur et sur l'effet des nouveaux médias sur la culture.


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