According to the United States Census Bureau over 78% of American households own at least one laptop or desktop computer, and 62% have over three key devices. It doesn’t take a big leap of faith, then, to assume that many American kids and teens have access to the internet, whether restricted or not.
The Benefits of the Internet
Owning a modern laptop allows access to one of the wonders of the modern world – the internet. With unlimited information, virtually any question can be answered, and there’s no end to the knowledge that can be gained by popping a question into a search engine, such as Google, and seeing the answers appear. Millions of videos explain how to achieve anything you could ever wish to accomplish, online courses make lessons available to all, and instant communication allows worldwide connectivity.
Wherever you live in the world, online shopping is simple, and remote working eliminates the daily commute, and increases productivity. Making art has become accessible for even the least talented artist, while designers can make dreams solid. The internet has become the most tapped into medium for entertainment, and new reports that spread globally enables us all to feel part of the world we live on.
The internet, accessed through laptops and other devices, then, has become a can’t-live-without phenomenon that’s here to stay.
However, as a parent with internet-savvy kids, there are some problems that however diligent we are, we should be aware of, and understanding that the anonymity and apparent protection provided by the laptop screen encourages a false impression of safety in our kids, is an important lesson to learn.
So, what exactly are the dangers we should watch out for?
Cyberbullying covers a whole range of issues, and can take a multitude of forms. From school mates calling names, to more sinister and far more worrying, video posting and online death threats, which in some cases, has lead, sadly, to suicide. Law enforcement agencies take this incredibly seriously, and there are specialist lawyers to provide advice and legal services.
The big issue here, though, is encouraging your child to talk about any problems, and fostering a healthy open channel for communication is the best way to help initially. Don’t take away internet privileges as this sends the message that they are somehow to blame. Use the internet blocking and banning security features, and delete accounts that the bullies have access to, but be open about what you’re doing and why.
Reports suggest that 1 in 7 American kids have been solicited online, and due to the anonymity of the predator, children are very vulnerable to this danger. Chat rooms, and social media sites, such as MySpace and Xanga, are hunting grounds for these individuals. Most of these sites encourage profile photos and bios, and naturally, your child will want to blend in with their peer group.
Sexual predators exploit this desire, and will often pose as other kids, chatting, using the same language and posting photos. With these fake identities, they make friends, feigning interest in the same bands, movies, bonding over school or parent problems and so on. Known as ‘grooming’, your kids won’t have any suspicions surrounding their new friends.
It’s important not to scare your kids, or alienate them, when talking about this issue, and to discuss internet safety openly, with no sense of blame or anger. Talk to them about privacy settings, and how they can help in keeping them safe. Psychologically, kids need to know, even if they never admit it, that they are being protected and kept safe in a loving, considerate way.
By encouraging your child to chat about their friends, you can ask about their social media use, maybe even looking at the sites together. Gently explain that they should never post their full name, address, or any contact details – remember that photos, too, can give away your location, or kid’s school, and point out that instant messaging should only be done if they know the friend in real life.
If you notice your child is more subdued, or sneaks away to use their device, take more notice of their actions. Keep laptops in family spaces, allowing you to keep an eye on their internet usage. Learn the common slang used in messaging, such as POS – parent over shoulder, or the more worrying LMIRL – let’s meet in real life.
The internet in itself is a great asset as your kids grow up, and they should be allowed and encouraged to explore. Laptops, too, as a piece of hardware, are a great learning tool, teaching hand to eye coordination, concentration and lateral thought processes, skills that are readily transferred to other areas of life. When it comes to internet safety, there really is no substitute for parental observations, and this stems from having a healthy kid/parent relationship. Foster this in all areas, and your child will grow up to become the best person they can be.
This content is sponsored by Satyajit Routray.