We have geared our children with smart devices from a very early age. We are used to such practices to this extent that we feel no interest in monitoring our children’s online behavior or activity.
However, the internet is a dangerous place to leave your kids unsupervised. It is brimming with all kinds of dangers that have come to surface after its evolution into a global hub.
As a parent, you now have more responsibilities than ever to protect your children from the threats that exist in the online world.
Aussie Children’s Activities on the Internet
According to a recent survey, it has come to light that the children in Australia tend to spend more time online than on TVs. The survey presents a study of 2,500 Australian children, aged between 6 to 13 years, and finds that the average duration Aussie children spend online are 12 hours, while 10.5 hours are spent on TV.
The survey also shows that around 95% of children are equipped with a computer. Moreover, up to 74% of children aged between 6 to 13 years use tablets, whereas 12 to 13 years use mobile phones to access the internet.
With a huge amount of time spent online, children are prone to indulge in online activities that are harmful to their fragile minds. So, what type of activities are we talking about? Let’s take a look at them.
Accessing Sexually Explicit Content
A recent study conducted by Melbourne’s Burnet Institute’s researcher, Dr. Megan Lim, found that Australian children aged between 15 and 29 years are highly indulged in porn. The study also found that the typical age of children when they first watched porn was 13 for males and 16 for females.
Pointing out at the report, Dr. Lim said, “Around 80 percent of young men said they watched weekly, and among the women who watched pornography, nearly two-thirds viewed at least monthly.”
Talking about the pornographic content on the internet, Dr. Lim says that this activity leads children to “poor mental health.”
Another study conducted in 2016 found that the exposure of pornographic material to young children has a negative impact on their behavior as well as their “sexual beliefs.” Moreover, young children tend to develop negative perspectives on gender role. For instance, children start seeing women as a “sex object” and “submissive.”
While giving an interview to the Huffington Post Australia, the CEO of Australian Childhood Foundation, Dr Joe Tucci, said, “"It is not a health crisis in the making, it is already a health crisis that we haven't woken up to."
Now, the question remains, are Aussie parents aware of their children’s online behavior or activity?
According to an AU Kids online survey, 49% of Australia parents answered “No” when they were asked if they knew that their children watch explicit content online.
Exchanging Sexual Messages
With the availability of smartphones to children as young as 11 years, it doesn’t come as a surprise that some kids tend to indulge in “sexting.” The term refers to the exchange of sexual messages with others.
According to the same AU Kids online survey, when children who were aged between 11 to 16 years old were asked if they “have seen or received” such messages, 1 in 7 answered yes. In fact, 3% of the surveyed children confessed receiving such messages “more than once a week.”
Moreover, while answering a questionnaire of AU Kids online survey, children also confessed about being asked to discuss sexual acts with other people online.
Again, when the parents were asked about their awareness of the matter, a staggering 51% of parents answered ‘No.'
Meeting Strangers Online
Another risky activity children seem to be spending their time on these days is getting in touch with people they don’t know personally. There is no denying that online predators roam the digital world to quench their fantasies.
They get in touch with vulnerable children online, try to earn their trust and then ask them to meet them in person. The rest of the scenario is every parent’s nightmare.
The findings of the AU Kids online survey present that 34% of Aussie children admit to meeting strangers online. The report also shows that older teens, i.e., 13 to 16 years, are more likely to get in touch with strangers online than younger children.
Astonishingly, around 79% of parents are not aware of it.
How Can Parents Monitor/Control Their Children’s Online Behavior?
It is high time parents reassume their responsibility of monitoring their children’s online behavior.
Education is the key when it comes to helping your children develop good internet practices. For this, it is imperative that pornography discussions take place in the sexuality education provided in high schools and colleges.
Dr. Sally-Anne McCormack, a child psychologist in Melbourne, urges the parents to educate their kids about sex as they do when it comes to using drugs. "Porn needs to be part of a child's education, the same talk that we have about drugs and alcohol," Dr. McCormack said.
Dr. McCormack further advises parents to educate their kids about how actual sex is an act of mutual love, and not “aggression” or “violence.”
Apart from sexual education, children should also be informed about the dangers of meeting strangers online. It is the duty of parents to tell their children how strangers claiming to be a 15 years old aren’t actually what they claim. Moreover, how meeting strangers offline can result in situations, the children wouldn’t want to get themselves in.
Establish Ground Rules
While education is necessary, emphasis must also be placed on internet usages rules in homes and schools or colleges. Don’t just discuss why posting personal information online is dangerous, but also take steps to prevent them from doing so. Place some ground rules on how your children should use the internet, what they can or cannot share online, etc.
Tell your children that they are not allowed to get in touch with someone they only know online. Also, tell them that there is a high chance of the other person being an internet predator or sex offender than a friend.
Set up Website Filters
It is a fact that not every child would willingly agree with you. After all, kids are kids, and they tend to go against their parent’s warnings. But you can make use of a website filter to keep a leash on your children’s online behavior.
There are many best website filters that can be installed on your child’s system. The filter allows you to limit access to sites that are either plagued with malicious content or pornographic material.
Add the pornography websites, dating or flirting URLs or any other site to the file that you deem inappropriate for your children.
Install Ad Blockers
It is not always the case that children intentionally access inappropriate websites on the internet. There are some instances when a child may inadvertently access a porn site, such as via a pop-up advertisement.
Many websites are plagued with unwanted ad popups. To avoid children watching or clicking those ads, you may use ad blockers.
An ad blocker allows you to block all types of ads.
As a parent, it is our responsibility to ensure that our kids are safe both online and offline. Yes, we can’t exactly strip them off smartphones and the internet, and expect them to sit still.
However, what we can do as a parent is to stay alert of our child’s online conduct. Monitor what they are doing online, what they are sharing on their social media pages and who they are contacting on chat applications or mobiles. Plus, we should educate them on the correct use of the technology and make them aware of the threats that come with it.