A few years ago, parents viewed the Internet with a mix of fascination and fear. Fascination because it was clear that the future was changing for our kids, and fear because it opened up a whole new frontier on child safety.
Those early safety concerns focused almost exclusively on pornography and predators. We were worried about our kids stumbling across sexually explicit content, and we believed chat rooms were full of strangers trying to lure our teens into dangerous face-to-face encounters.
Now, a few years later, the Internet has become a part of everyday life. The majority of family rooms have a computer, and a day doesn’t go by without most kids over the age of 13 spending at least an hour surfing the web or checking out their social networks.
THE DANGERS ARE DIFFERENT
Meanwhile, research suggests that the chances of a tween or teen being sexually abused by someone they meet over the Internet are extremely low, and that once-mysterious chat room has morphed into an always-on, text-saturated cell phone!
Despite our familiarity with the Internet, the dangers are still there. Only nowadays, the threats come in much subtler ways: Harassment that doesn’t end at the school gates but follows kids home in the form of cyber bullying; ads for diet pills and weight-loss programs that pop-up every time girls log on to Facebook; and teen-targeted web sites that glorify everything from anorexia to suicide.
In the face of such threats, it’s no longer sufficient for parents to install parental controls and then hope for the best. We need to prepare our kids for a different world: One in which online “friends” may not always have their best interests at heart and the home may no longer be a natural safe haven.
WHERE IS YOUR CHILD ON THE RISK CURVE?
We have reached a point where learning how to deal with the Internet needs to be part of every child’s basic education. However, it doesn’t look like it’s going to be incorporated into the school calendar anytime soon. As usual, that leaves it up to the parents.
Luckily, most kids are fairly savvy about keeping themselves safe and they behave online much like they do offline. Other kids are natural risk-takers and are likely to take those same risks online.
Understanding where your child falls on the “risk curve” is the key to providing the help and guidance that they need.