As parents, it’s easy to make the right choice when there’s a clear separation between right and wrong – but when two things we care about are in direct conflict, things get a little murkier.
Children and Privacy
As humans, we have the instinctive desire to give privacy to others when they start asking for it – indeed, children wanting privacy is a major milestone in their development. As a result, I don’t think it’s a surprise that many parents exercise little or no oversight over the online lives of their children – there aren’t many direct threats, and the kids are having fun, so there’s no problem… right?
I wish I could agree with that, but though the internet was relatively safe during its earliest years, that is no longer the case. In fact, it could be more dangerous than the offline world.
Children and Safety
Let’s take a look at some of the biggest threats to our children that currently exist online.
We share a lot of information online, and many social networks work to spread that information as widely as possible. Sometimes it’s outright sales – that’s how targeted ads work – and sometimes they just want to promote their own service to keep you on the site.
More worrying is the fact that many teens don’t even know who’s watching them. According to the Pew Internet Research Project, 39% of teens have no idea how many people are following them on Instagram, which is higher than any other group. They share a lot of personal information through those pictures, too.
Set aside the idea of stalkers who are gathering information and preparing to pounce on unsuspecting children. That is no longer the main online threat. Instead, many predators are forming actual relationships, working to get close to kids and teens over time. If your child seems obsessed with talking to someone they’ve never met in person, they might be in the midst of being targeted.
This isn’t meant to imply that all, or even most, relationships started online involve a predator. They don’t. However, it is a real risk, and many teens will ignore the warning signs if they get too emotionally involved in the relationship.
The playground is no longer the favored venue for bullies. Many incidents of this type have moved to the digital realm, and girls are especially vulnerable to cyberbullying tactics.
A Delicate Balancing Act
As parents, we want to give our children some privacy – it helps them learn to become strong, independent people. At the same time, however, the internet is clearly not safe for children… and that’s before they start deliberately going out and looking for things they shouldn’t be seeing.
The unfortunate truth is that until children learn to take safety into their own hands, we cannot keep them safe while still giving them the privacy they want to have – and so, while I’d rather not have to recommend this, I think children should have no expectation of digital privacy unless and until they’ve proven that they deserve it. It’s not that we want to spy on what they’re doing – we just want to be good parents and keep them safe.
Mistakes on the internet can trouble people for years to come, and if we can protect our kids from that by taking a few minutes every now and then to see what they’ve been up to, I think it’s worth it.
Photo is from Shutterstock
Guest Author Bio
Amy Williams is a free-lance journalist based in Southern California and mother of two. As a parent, she enjoys spreading the word on positive parenting techniques in the digital age and raising awareness on issues like cyberbullying and online safety