The dangers of the Internet must be known, recognised, and understood to provide parents with the knowledge, experience and patience to identify and deal with any incident of online child exploitation, inappropriate online behaviour or cyberbullying.
Facebook tops the list of sites that children sign up to under-age, with 52% of 8 to 16-year-olds admitting they had ignored the official age limit. Other popular sites include WhatsApp, used by 40% of 8 to 16-year-olds, BBM (24%), SnapChat (11%) and Ask.fm (8%). Research has found that although 59% of children are social networking by 10 years old, just 32% of parents feel “very confident” about helping them stay safe online.
Furthermore 21% of children had posted negative comments, starting from an average age of 11, and 26% had “hijacked” another person’s account and posted without permission. Some 43% had messaged strangers, starting from an average age of 12. Research suggests that children are most likely to post an image or video of themselves online or set up a fake profile for the first time at the age of 11, try Twitter and message a stranger at 12 and try services like SnapChat and Ask.fm at the age of 13. Children are gaining access to social media sites at a younger age, which could expose them to content, people or situations that are out of their depth and which they’re not emotionally prepared for.
Parents can no longer protect children by simply trying to limit their online experiences. Instead parents/carers need to maintain an open dialogue and encourage children to share both good and bad online experiences, talk openly and straightforwardly about the risks they may encounter online without scaring them and make sure they keep up with the latest social media crazes and work with their children rather than trying to control them.
The use of technology is quickly becoming the primary means of bullying and harassment, particularly among adolescents. Text and picture messaging through mobile phones and social media via the Internet have taken the place of the traditional schoolyard bully and have led to an explosion in bullying, harassment and other exploitive behaviours on-line. Sexting, Sexcasting, Cyberbullying, Trolling, are becoming more common through the use of Social Media and the expanding use of Apps on Iphones, Blackberrys and Android phones. As Risk can lead to Danger which in turn can escalate towards Harm it is necessary to understand and reduce Risk.
Parents, along with educational professionals must engage with children & young adults to better understand how they use social media and apps, to correctly advise how to stay safe, smart & keep a positive online presence.