The Internet is an amazing world of learning and unlimited knowledge. Children are open to new ways of learning, playing games and meeting new people, but at the same time they are exposed to a world of dangers. Instant messaging, chat rooms, emails and social networking sites can also bring trouble - from cyber-bullying to gambling, to inappropriate material and even exposure to sexual predators.

"Technology can play a key role in protecting your children from the dangers they face today or help you as a parent understand what they are doing online."

As a parent, it is important for you to be aware of the hidden dangers your children are vulnerable to. Here are five questions you as a parent should ask yourself:

  1. Are you truly aware of all the dangers your children are exposed to today while online?
  2. Do you know the new social networking sites or applications the kids are communicating in today?
  3. Do you understand their vocabulary? What are the new terms, slangs and acronyms your kids are using today when chatting with their friends?
  4. Do you know if your child has used a webcam, Skype or sent any nude photos of themselves?
  5. Are you aware of the technology that exists today to help monitor and alert on your child’s activities while educating the parent on new social networks, applications and vocabulary?    

This article was created to teach you as parents some of the potential problems your children are exposed to today. Let’s start with a few statistics;

A few alarming statistics

  • Child pornography is one of the fastest growing businesses online, and the content is becoming much worse. In 2008, Internet Watch Foundation found 1,536 individual child abuse domains.
  • 20 percent of teens have sent or posted nude or semi-nude photographs or videos of themselves.
  • Currently, there are over 747,408 Registered Sex Offenders in the United States and only 265,000 are under the supervision of correction agencies.
  • 43 percent of teens aged 13 to 17 report that they have experienced some sort of cyberbullying in the past year.
  • Nearly one in six high school students has seriously considered suicide, and one in 12 has attempted it.

Now that you have a scary idea how much actually happens on the internet, we are going to classify each of the dangers that you need to be aware of;

Cyber-bullying

According to Wikipedia, Cyberbullying is the use of the Internet and related technologies to harm or harass other people, in a deliberate, repeated, and hostile manner. As it has become more common in society, particularly among young people, legislation and awareness campaigns have arisen to combat it.

Cyber-bullies pose as their victims and send out harassing messages to others. Recently, cyber-bullies have also begun posting humiliating videos of other kids they dislike. Kids normally won’t tell parents they are being cyber-bullied because they are afraid their parents will overreact or take away Internet privileges. Even in some cases like Amanda Todd or Meagan Meier, the victim has gone to extreme measures and taken their own lives.

Sexual predators

The term sexual predator is used pejoratively to describe a person seen as obtaining or trying to obtain sexual contact with another person in a metaphorically "predatory" manner. Analogous to how a predator hunts down its prey, so the sexual predator is thought to "hunt" for his or her sex partners. People who commit sex crimes, such as rape or child sexual abuse, are commonly referred to as sexual predators, particularly in tabloid media or as a power phrase by politicians.

"Today, the internet opens the door for trusting young people to interact with virtual strangers."

Today, the internet opens the door for trusting young people to interact with virtual strangers - even people they'd normally cross the street to avoid in real life. While sexual predators have targeted children in chat rooms, they migrate to wherever young people go online. More predators are now scouring social networking sites, such as KIK Messenger, Instagram, FaceBook, Skype, ooVoo, SnapChat and ASK.FM.

Pornography

Pornography is the explicit portrayal of sexual subject matter for the purpose of sexual arousal.

One of the worst dangers with the Internet for many parents is the idea that pornography could pop up and surprise their children. But parents may not realize that some kids are going online to seek out web porn, too.

Gambling

Gambling is the wagering of money or something of material value on an event with an uncertain outcome with the primary intent of winning additional money and/or material goods.

There are many gambling sites on the Internet, and anyone with a credit card at his disposal can enter and gamble. Be aware that it is illegal for minors to gamble, websites generally do not have any other authentication methods than the name, address and phone number.  So please check your credit card payments each month make sure that no unusual payments have been made.

Social networking

What is a social networking site?

Social networking sites are virtual communities. Kids convene on these sites to chat, IM, post pictures, and blog (journal). They appeal to teens because they provide instant community, instant celebrity, and encompass so many of the online tools and entertainment activities that teens know and love. They provide access to real-time and asynchronous communication features; blogging tools; photo, music, and video-sharing features; and the ability to post original creative work—all linked to a unique profile that can be customized and updated on a regular basis.

In the online world, social networking sites have become a predominant forum for kids to present themselves, seek approval, and describe their interests. One of the defining features of most social networking pages is the visual and audio clutter; these sites often look like over-decorated high school yearbooks or scrapbooks. Teens use these pages as a place to feature everything in their heads and hearts that they want people to know about. The central feature of these sites is theability to connect with people and share information.

A child's online reputation is a growing concern with the rise of online social networking and profiles.

A child's online reputation is a growing concern with the rise of online social networking and profiles. Schools and employers are rejecting young people for high school programs, internships, college admissions and jobs after checking out what the applicants have posted online.

Camera phones, digital cameras and web cams are everywhere these days, and kids can be victims of their own inexperience with new technology. Many post pictures, videos or notes online that they later regret. "Think before you post, because once you do, it's going to be up there forever," Shehan says.

What do parents need to know?

Today there are a lot of pressures parents are under in teaching their children about the rights and wrongs of society compared to several years past. Their social networks consisted of their classmates, family and neighbors. Parents usually knew who they were or had some interaction with them at some point. 

"As parents we need to take the time not only to understand what they are doing in school, but what they are doing online in their digital lives."

By having that interaction they could easily determine which kids were better influences for their own kids. They had the ability to meet the parents or talk to them when they fought or were mean to each other. Today, kids’ social networks are not just their local acquaintances, they have expanded to the entire world.  Think about it, Social Networks such as; Facebook, MySpace, Orkut, Friendster, ask.fm and more have made the ability for children to meet just about anyone in any given country.  

Younger children today are naïve to the dangers within these social networking circles, they believe that everyone they know is doing it, so why not. As parents we need to take the time not only to understand what they are doing in school, but what they are doing online in their digital lives. 

Can technology help?

YES! Technology can play a key role in protecting your children from the dangers they face today or help you as a parent understand what they are doing online. One company, Global Aware Technologies and their Shield Genie software solution will be able to monitor, block and alert on your child’s on-line activities, shielding them from the potential dangers that exist when surfing the net, using webcams or chatting with friends. Parents can customize restriction settings depending on their child’s age. Instant text alerts and emails are sent to the parents and triggered when the child enters in any “red-flagged” key words, visits undesired web or social sites or uses their webcam.

So parents, please talk with your children and take an active role in knowing what your children are doing when they are using their electronic devices. Let technology play a role in helping you be a more responsible parent. Please don’t wait until it’s too late, act now.