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Protect Kids from Internet Exploitation

kids are our most valuable asset, while their education is probably the best investment there is.
While growing up, access to the world was limited to travel, TV and some print. In today’s world, it only requires a few key strokes and literally seconds to find out the answer to “who is the tallest man?” or listen to the national anthem of  Tanzania, or walk-through the streets of Paris. Back in the days, it was apparently “simple” to “protect” children from molestation or fraud; for starters our parents did not have to deal with these rivers of information, multiple screens & increasing risk of online fraud or molestation ; a huge difference between us & them. Raising children is by no means a simple task, our parents must have had a million and one things to worry about; but things are not getting any easier – far from it; the introduction of the internet, tablets, smart phones, chat rooms, blogging, IM and explosion of social media makes it an increasingly difficult task to manage. Kids are spoilt for choice, and parents… are trying their best to raise good kids in today’s world.

Many questions are asked by parents:  When should we allow our children to get online? How much time? How to protect my children from being bullied, online? Social networking sites’ usage…etc. There is no simple or definite answer, it has to do with the level of communication we have with our kids. The more time we spent with them, the better people they will become “hopefully”…

This article outlines some of the risks children are exposed to in the digital world, while suggesting a few precautions to minimise these risks.

1. Sexual Molestation: Teens and young children are a prime target for predators. These sick minded people usually target this age due to their inexperience  and lack of knowledge of internet security. Typically, they are able to attract them through attention & kindness; they seem to “understand” what they are going through in their “tough” life – peer pressure, school, career…etc. They are also in-tune with the latest music and fashion trends. They are very good listeners, and will slowly introduce explicit material  into their conversations to lower the children’s inhibitions once they succeed in getting a face-to-face meeting. Unlike the offline world, we cannot easily figure them out in the digital space, yet there are precautions to minimise the risk.

2. Fraud: Once again, lack of knowledge of internet security “etiquette” makes teens and young children very vulnerable to fraud. For example, email scam is one of the most commonly used Fraud Techniques. By acquiring their personal information through social media & chat rooms, they can easily impersonate an individual they know and trust (uncle/cousin…etc) by sending them an email (usually the display name is from an acquaintance, and the actual email address is very close to that of the relative) a funny line/offer/promotion…etc with a link that plants a virus in their computers. The extent of damage to the machine is dependant on the type of virus, and varies from getting control of their machine to acquiring their entire address book. Scams range from sending money to a “relative in need” to impersonating that individual. Once again, there are measure to minimise that risk.

3. Cyberbullying: Bullying is not only a challenge in schools and social clubs, but on the cyber space as well. Cyberbullying is defined as use of the Internet and related technologies to harm other people, in a deliberate, repeated, and hostile manner, according to wikipedia. Cyberbullying is potentially more dangerous than school bullying, for the lack of a “cyber principle” to take up this issue with.

These are all serious challenges that face the vast majority of parents, who might be thinking that limiting screen time might limit the progress of children’s education and exposure to the world. They might be right in a way, yet there are measure to be taken to minimise that threat and making sure that time and money investments in our children is maximised for optimum return.

Steps to Protect Children from Digital Exploitation:

1. The first item on the list is communication. Its imperative to stay as close as possible to children without suffocating them. They have to learn about the threats of being online just as much as the benefits. Depending on age, one should start introducing these threats in a simple and understandable language. With good communication and understanding, children will feel at ease discussing explicit material with you, and possibly protecting them from harm.

2. Set YOUR Rules: It is advisable to always keep internet browsing machines (laptops/desktops…etc) in a public area of the house. This is very difficult with the introduction of tablets and smart phones, yet with good communication you can always reach a “perceived” compromise. For example, internet browsing is only allowed in the living room.

3. Check: Children MUST understand that trust is earned and not given, and in order to build trust; we have to CHECK! Always check hard / portable drives, browsing & chat histories; for explicit material or any thing you might find “fishy” or compromising. Random as well as planned checks are recommended. They also have to understand that we trust them, but do not trust that others will respect their lack of knowledge & inexperience in life.

4. Online Identity: Advise your children not to use their full names, maybe a first name or even a nickname (nothing that would attract unwanted attention). Teach them to be smart with images they post, so they don’t reveal too much information; for example, avoid images revealing: home address, school uniform…etc. When it comes to email, its advisable to share an account so you always have access to everything they get in their inbox; eliminating scam mail problems (identity theft, viruses…etc)

5. General:

– Don’t talk to strangers: Avoid it as much as possible, yet when faced with a situation where they have to; then advise them not to reveal personal information.

– Passwords: They should never EVER give their passwords to anyone outside the vicinity of home, and change them frequently. This is one of the most common methods of online theft/fraud/molestation.

– Private Chat rooms are forbidden. It is the ideal place for a child molester to hide, posing as a 12YO- they should always stay in the public chat rooms. Only chat with people you know.

– Clicking an “ad” is forbidden (usually placed as a banner on top of the page, as well on the right hand side) – so many scams and virus attacks happen when you click one of those ads. They should also ask for permission before downloading anything off the internet.

– Use filters and parental control options: Many of today’s operating systems come with build in parental control options, its always a good idea to familiarise yourself with it. Plenty of options are available, from blocking certain sites, to restricting browsing to selected site.

Using common sense and building a trust-based relationship (as well as reading and educating ourselves) with children is probably the best way to protect our loved ones for Cyber-Harm. There are many references online on how to protect your children, and the FBI‘s guide for parents is a good starting point. Stay Safe & Be Safe.

Digital Matters

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