When kids go online unguided
Many aspects of everyday life now involve the Internet.
Google is our wisest uncle, Wikipedia is our smartest teacher, Amazon is our favorite shopping mall, YouTube is our highest-rating television channel, and Facebook is our best friend.
The possibilities of the Internet are endless. Unfortunately, this swings both ways. While the Web is usually used to improve people’s lives, most people are still unaware of the many dangers it poses.
These dangers are infinitely worse for the most vulnerable users—the children.
Elmer Ferrer, lead training officer of the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co.’s (PLDT) technical training division, said the first thing parents should monitor is how their kids use the Web.
“There is clearly a generation gap,” Ferrer said. Most parents, he noted, barely knew how to navigate the Web, making it difficult to monitor their children’s use.
This could make children susceptible to bullying, and exposes them to violent or sexual content or, worse, sexual predators.
“Our children know the Net better than we do, but they do not have wisdom. That’s why we have to be there to guide them,” Ferrer said.
He said a recent study by Internet safety firm Norton found that only 50 percent of parents knew what their children did online.
Currently, there are two billion Internet users around the world, with 2.9 billion e-mail accounts sending 107 trillion messages every year. There are 255 million websites and about 36 billion photos are uploaded on Facebook every year.
Too much for law enforcers
Ferrer said that with such a vast landscape to supervise, poorly funded law enforcement agencies would never be able to truly monitor the Web and protect the public.
This is why safety should start at home, he said, with small steps.
The first thing parents should do is to keep computers in common areas at home.
Parents should familiarize themselves with Internet jargon. They can start with basics like PAW [parents are watching], usually used when kids are chatting online. Other variations are POS [parent over shoulder] or SOS [sibling over shoulder].
Some seemingly innocuous acronyms have very sinister meanings. TDTM means “talk dirty to me” while GNOC stands for “get naked on cam.”
Children using the Internet often have no reservations about talking to strangers. The Norton survey found that 79 percent of kids on the Internet allowed strangers to add them as friends on sites like Facebook.
Even more alarming, some 22 percent of the kids had been asked by strangers to meet in the real world. But only 35 percent of children reported suspicious behavior to adults.
Philippine National Police computer crime unit chief Eduardo Sosa said sexual predators are always on the lookout for children who, curious about their sexuality, are often all too willing targets.
Young girls are especially at risk, often tricked into romantic flings with people they meet online.
“Then they are photographed in intimate moments. These images are easily uploaded and shared with everyone using the Internet,” Sosa said.
Sosa also warned that children now have unrestricted access to pornographic materials.
“Children are one click away from accessing porn materials that feature live sex shows, bestiality and violence,” Sosa said.
“There is no more distinction between child or adult viewers. Most sites request age verification from visitors but a minor can just as easily claim that he is of age,” he added.
Adult materials could have negative effects on the emotional health of children, Sosa said. Many develop sexual deviation. They also desensitize children to adult entertainment, Sosa said.
“This can also facilitate sexual aggression. It can lead to objectification of women, acting out and increased sexual callousness towards women,” he added.
Parents should watch out for “warning signs” that children might have been exposed to inappropriate content.
These include “unusual or unexplained credit card charges and signs of premature sexual activity.”
Parents should be suspicious when children quickly change what is on their computer screens when other people walk into a room.
“Also watch out for noticeable changes in behavior, secretiveness and defensiveness,” Sosa said.
But the best thing any parent can do, he said, is to take proactive steps by having a role in their children’s emotional and sexual development.
“You need to keep lines of communication open,” Sosa said. “Children are naturally curious about sex. You must realize that he needs and wants adult guidance. Parents need to educate children about healthy sexuality, respect for themselves and for the opposite sex,” Sosa added.
No matter how complicated the Internet could get, Sosa said there are simple ways to protect children.
“What we don’t want is for parents to be afraid of the Internet because the Internet is good,” he said.