How safe are children when it comes to online use? What are the most important issues when comes to Internet safety for children? What is being presented in the literature when it comes to protecting children who use the Internet? These issues and others will be addressed in this paper.
What are the dangers for children while using the Internet?
An article in the peer-reviewed journal BMC Public Health describes research that includes the ongoing problem called cyberbullying, which impacts about a third of youthful Internet users. And cyberbullying has been linked to "…a variety of health concerns," including suicidal ideation (Moreno, et al., 2013). The other danger for young adolescents is that they "…frequently display personal and identifiable information" linked to their private lives, and this personal information may include: home address; "revealing photographs"; or descriptions of "sexual behavior and substance use" (Moreno, 1).
In the peer-reviewed publication, Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media (Shin, et al., 2012) the authors point out that a recent survey with U.S. teenagers showed that 52% of those who are frequently online disclose personal information -- and they often disclose it to people they "…do not personally know." Also, the article reports that 25% of teenagers in the survey acknowledged that they "…shared personal photos/physical descriptions" of themselves to others online (Shin, 633). And another survey involving children ages 9 through 16 revealed that just 43% of those children keep their social network profiles personal and private; this means that any person, even a predator, has access to the personal information that could open up those young lives to danger.
It also means that online marketing companies have ready access to an enormous potential demographic of young people, and even though the "Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) in the United States requires online marketing firms to get "parental permission" prior to gathering person information from children under 13 years of age, if a child posts personal information on Facebook, for example, that information is ripe for collecting (Shin, 633).
Children's Internet Usage -- and Dangerous Online Strategies
While it is important for parents, teachers and others in the community to try and protect children from danger and unwanted solicitations online, it is also important to allow children the social interactions and communication they deserve and need in order to grow up fully integrated adults within a digital society. M. Sharples and colleagues explain in the Journal of Computer Assisted Learning that Article 13 of the "United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child" spells out that children have certain rights internationally:
"The child shall have the right to freedom of expression: this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of are, or through any other media of the child's choice" (Sharples, 2009, 70).
The United Nations declaration of children's rights also mentions that there should be some "restrictions" on the way in which children exercise these rights, and this is where the need for protection online comes into play, according to the authors. These rights shall be "…only as such are provided by law and are necessary," the UN declaration explains. Those rights are granted: a) for "…respect of the rights and reputations of others"; and b) for the protection of "national security or of public order…or of public health or morals" (Sharples, 70).
The way the authors respond to the UN declaration, and to the risks young people face, is to mention that not everything about children and the Internet is negative; indeed, they mention the benefits to youth when they do make responsible use of social media networking. The authors also take a broader look at the situation and they mention the wide range of "inappropriate content" that children can be confronted with, including: a) constant advertising of foods that are not healthy (like fast foods with high fat levels and sugar-saturated drinks); b) portrayals of "violence"; c) soft and hard core pornography that is available; and d) moreover, adults can and do assume "false identities online," posing as young people but hiding behind "…a cloak of anonymity" (Sharples, 72-73).
The authors reported a survey of 264 students from junior high schools in Canada in which "…almost half of the students were bully victims" and about twenty-five percent of them had been bullied online (Sharples, 74). The authors also reported a survey conducted by the University of Nottingham in a partnership with the London Knowledge Lab and Manchester Metropolitan University; this survey was done in order to evaluate the practices and the attitudes that relate to online safety as well as to evaluate the way in which online activities are taught.
The survey (a questionnaire) involved 2,611 children and 206 teachers from 27 public schools in England; 121 parents of teenage children were also part of this research, Sharples writes on page 71. On page 75 Sharples reports that of the 2,611 children in the survey 64% have Internet at home and 70% of those have "wireless access" at home. Echoing what was covered in the first page of this paper as to personal password behaviors, the authors found that 9% of the 2,611 children surveyed "…occasionally told their passwords to other people," and 2% indicated they give their passwords out "frequently" (Sharples, 75).
It has been explained by technology experts that it is a good idea to occasionally change passwords, but in this survey of English children 23% reported they "never change" passwords; 37% said they rarely change their passwords; 27% said they "occasionally" change passwords; and 9% said they "frequently" change their passwords (Sharples, 75). Inventing new passwords is also a concern to online safety because one consistent rule is that a person should not use a password that is "…based on personal information" like a birth date or a family member's name. In this survey nearly half of the 2,611 children reported they use passwords that indeed are based on family members names or otherwise information that can be found in personal records (Sharples, 75). About one-quarter of the 2,611 children surveyed use passwords "…that could be found in a dictionary" and there are "dictionary password-cracking programs" used by hackers, Sharples explains (75).
There are justifiable concerns for children's safety while using digital technologies because 27% of the 2,611 children in this research reported getting instant messages (IMs) from strangers, and 14% said they "frequently" receive IMs from strangers (Sharples, 76). Perhaps more chilling is the fact that 15% of the respondents say they "frequently" send an IM reply to someone they have never met. As to social networking activities, 32% of the 2,611 children said they had received "…friend requests from unknown people" and 22% reported they got friends requests from strangers "frequently" (Sharples, 76).
How many of the 2,611 accepted those "friend requests" from strangers? Twenty-two percent accepted those requests (usually on Facebook) "frequently" and 22% had frequent online conversations with people they had never met but had only come into contact through "friend requests" on Facebook (Sharples, 76). The bottom line for these 2,611 children is that 42% interact on social media sites with people they have never met face-to-face "on a regular basis" (Sharples, 76). About one-half of the 2,611 children surveyed "…have been subject to unwelcome postings at some point," including photos that were not intended to have been posted (Sharples, 76).
Of the 206 British teachers that were surveyed in this research about half acknowledged that they use social media sites and 47% of those social media users had posted a personal profile (Sharples, 77). However, only 55% of those teachers indicated that their schools had a specific Internet safety program for children and 42% said they never taught Internet safety to students but 11% reported that they teach Internet safety to students "frequently" (Sharples, 77).
Parental Awareness and Monitoring of Adolescent Internet Use
While teachers have a lot to say about how children access and use the Internet, parents are even closer to the situation regarding their children's online practices. An article in the peer-reviewed journal Current Psychology reports that parents as a rule "…underestimate adolescents' engagement in risky Internet behaviors" and also parents "overestimate" the time spent monitoring their children's Internet safety that happens in the home (Liau, et al., 2008, 217). This article points out that while 73% of parents surveyed (Livingstone and Bober, 2004) believe use of the Internet can help their children learn "worthwhile things" in school, "…many parents" are deeply concerned that the Internet creates a situation in which their children are "isolated from others" and are exposed to dangers (Liau, 218).
A study by the Pew organization showed that 62% of parents indicate they have "checked up" on what their child does online, just 33% of adolescents responded that their parents really know what they are doing online (Liau, 218). There seems to be a disconnect between…