Author: P. Christopher Guedri, Richmond, VA Personal Injury Attorney
In the United States today, children have unprecedented access to the internet. The percentage of Americans who own a computer or cell phone has never been higher, with research showing that 84% of United States households contain a computer and 64% of Americans have cell phones. While the internet can be a positive place for children to learn and connect with friends, there are many potential dangers involved if proper precautions are not taken.
Online threats come in a variety of shapes and sizes, with the most dangerous being predators looking to harm children through the internet. These online predators are usually strangers using fake profiles and chats to communicate with the children who will respond to them, and, in some cases, they attempt to meet with the children in person. Their intention is to harm children by exposing them to sexual material and abuse.
Other malicious internet users seek to harm children through cyberbullying. A cyberbully is usually someone that a child knows, such as a classmate, who uses the internet to attack or make fun of that child and others. Cyberbullying is most likely to occur on social media websites, such as Facebook, where images and messages can be shared easily and user profiles are often publicly viewable.
Not all risks are the result of people intentionally seeking to harm a child. There is also a chance that a child could be exposed to something harmful inadvertently. Simply misspelling a word while doing a Google search could return content that is inappropriate, and certain websites may have inappropriate material that can be accessed without requiring proof of age.
One risk that may not seem as immediately obvious is identity theft. Children can use the internet to create individual profiles on websites or play online games, and these sites sometimes require personal information or even a credit card number before giving users access. Some online predators may attempt to solicit personal information from a child, as well.
Ways to Protect Your Child When They're Online
So, how can children be protected from the dangers of the internet?
The best way to keep children safe online is through awareness. Both parents and children need to know about the risks involved when the internet is being used and how to combat them. If a child does not know that something may be dangerous, he or she will have no defense against it.
Communication is another important tool for online safety. Parents should talk to their children about the time they spend on the internet; something as simple as asking children about their favorite websites can be an effective way for parents to learn about what they do while online.
There are also effective tools online for teaching children about internet safety. The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children has created NetSmartzKids, an interactive website that provides age-appropriate tools that help teach children how to be safer online. Such sites are tools that children can use to learn in a way tailored to them.
Other methods for protection include moving the computer to an open area in the house, setting up child-locks and parental controls to block inappropriate content, and checking the child’s online accounts and email.
Increased internet access means children are more at risk than ever to the dangers of being online. Without taking proper precautions, children may be exposed to an incredible amount of inappropriate material or dangerous situations. Of course, even being careful is not always enough, as a predator may trick a child or the child may accidentally come across something inappropriate. Still, awareness and communication are the most effective ways to keep children safe online.
About The Author: Chris Guedri was named "Lawyer of the Year 2015" by Best Lawyers in America for Personal Injury-Plaintiff's in Richmond, VA. He has more than 30 years of experience and is a trial attorney and partner with the law firm of Allen, Allen, Allen & Allen.