Your Child’s “Digital Footprint”: How to Recognize Online Dangers and Keep Them Safe While They Browse.

July 24, 2014

School’s out for summer and many children could be occupying their seasonal free time by surfing the Internet. In the summer, children might be spending anywhere between two and eight hours each day online. Although the digital world offers experiences which can be both educational and rewarding, it can also pose a threat to young users.

Children are often tempted to roam around unknown websites. They browse online without the knowledge or experience needed to recognize danger. As a result, parents are forced to adopt the tough responsibility of monitoring online activity.

The interactive nature of the Internet poses consistent challenges for parents and caregivers. Your child can interact with anyone online, which is unlike other forms of digital entertainment (such as television or radio). The Internet allows any user, anywhere, to post information – including content that is inaccurate, misleading, and inappropriate for children. It could also give unscrupulous users the opportunity to collect personal information from your child.

Below are some of the most prevalent dangers children may encounter online, and possible ways to avoid them:

1.)      Tracking. Advertisers are constantly tracking your family’s online activity. The information they gather is used to target ads to you, based on your browsing preferences. Although tracking is difficult to avoid, it is important to be aware of targeted advertisements so you can explain them to your children.

2.)    Bullying and harassment. This is most likely to happen through social networking sites, or through e-mail and text exchanges. It is important to listen to your children and encourage them to discuss their fears and feelings about such incidents. Further, it is crucial to be vigilant in recognizing the possible signs that your child could be bullying or harassing others online.

3.)    Reputation-harming posts. Children may not understand that what is posted online will exist in the digital world forever. Despite the fact that many networks allow the deletion of posts, they are never truly removed from where they exist on the Internet. In addition, other users may save the content to use against your child later. Questionable posts could come back to haunt your kids in the future and it is important for them to understand this, especially as it pertains to pictures. Take the time and use a search engine to check what has been posted by or about you and your children.

4.)    Phishing attempts and identity theft. Help your children understand e-mails requesting passwords and usernames could be fake, even though they look may look legitimate. Educate them not to click on links in these correspondences and explain that they should not share their passwords with anyone other than you. Ensure the operating systems and security systems on your devices are kept up-to-date as well, in order to promote added safety.

5.)    Inappropriate Content. Children can easily stumble upon material that is sexual, violent, or pertaining to illegal activity. Explain the consequences of this type of content in the “real world” and point to how unrealistic the digital depictions of the actions might be. Establish rules about which sites can and cannot be visited online. Keep in mind that the streaming of online videos does not adhere to a rating system, which presents a copious amount of inappropriate content for your kids to access.

6.)    Online stalkers/predators. Though such incidents are frequently reported on the news, the risk of a child or teen being harmed by someone they met online is considered to be low. Nevertheless, common-sense should always apply. Any communication your child has with an unknown person, veering into subjects like sex or other physical details, should be ended at once and reported to you. Call your local police department if you suspect your child is being contacted for inappropriate reasons.

Be aware of your child’s “digital footprint”, as it creates a trail of everything they do online. While many digital footprints can be positive, some can ultimately harm children personally or professionally somewhere down the line.

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