Over the past few years the Internet has become a place where families can go for all kinds of entertainment, education and social networking with other family members and friends. It has also become a place where cyber-criminals seek to take advantage of people who are not properly protected against their tactics. Cyber-criminals work in different ways and it is especially important that households with children and teens become better prepared to defend themselves. We will discuss the top 8 dangers, what to look for and some effective tools for parents to use:
1. Sexual Predators
While predators are the most well-known cyber threat, they are still prevalent and a very real danger, even for children who have been warned about online predators. Predators find victims through chat rooms and social networks, and proceed to groom them by pretending to enjoy the same hobbies, gradually gaining the victim’s confidence by listening to their problems, giving them attention, and often the victim becomes emotionally invested in the predator and a willing collaborator in their own abuse. At this point, it is terrifyingly easy for a predator to convince a victim to meet them face to face.
2. Financial Predators
The media focuses on sexual predators online, but the internet houses another dangerous predator. Children and young adults are common targets for identity theft because they can be coerced into revealing personal information, and because parents rarely check their children’s credit reports. Often, children and parents won’t find out about the identity theft for years, when the child is denied a job or financial aid.
3. Over Sharing
“Over sharing” is a growing problem on the internet, both for adults and children. Everyone has heard horror stories of individuals passed over for a job because of content on their Facebook page, blog, or other social networking space. Teenagers commonly make this mistake because they do not fully realize the content they post will be online forever. Sharing information about illegal activities, including underage drinking, can cheat teens out of scholarships or a job. Sharing information about where they live or go to school can attract financial or sexual predators. Insurance companies also monitor social networking sites to detect fraud and in some cases deny coverage if certain excluded activities are discovered.
4. Inappropriate Behaviors / “Sexting”
While the media has discussed the prevalence of “sexting”, or the sending of sexually explicit text messages, most outlets have ignored the amount of teens engaging in inappropriate online messaging of a sexual nature. Whether with a predator or a peer, parents are unaware their children are engaging in this behavior.
5. Gaming Addiction
Young adults often include video games as one of their favorite hobbies. While for most video games are a fun and harmless pastime, some gamers find themselves spending more and more time in-game. Eventually, gamers can become addicted.
Although game addiction is not formally recognized as a psychological disorder, many players find themselves ignoring real world activities for in-game activities. Symptoms include withdrawal from friends and family, significant weight gain or loss, sleep deprivation, academic decline, replacing real world relationships with in-game friends, and prioritizing in-game achievements over real world achievements.
6. Inappropriate Behavior in Online Games
Adults unfamiliar with MMORPGs are oftentimes unaware of the social interactions common to games such as World of Warcraft, Star Trek: Online and City of Heroes. As many as 12 million individuals regularly play World of Warcraft alone, and players often build in-game social networks that rival the complexity, familiarity and intimacy of real world relationships. Many of these players are not children or teenagers, but fully grown adults. As there is very little monitoring of in-game conversations, children may be accidentally exposed to adult topics of conversation by adults unaware they are speaking with a child. Additionally, sexual predators can use the game to start a relationship with children.
7. Inappropriate Videos or Pictures
The prevalence of digital cameras, which take both videos and still images that are easy to upload to the internet, can be a recipe for disaster for young adults. Teenagers often post videos and images of themselves drinking alcohol or using drugs. In some cases, teenagers will even post sexually suggestive or explicit images or videos to social networking sites, websites, or video hosting sites such as YouTube. Sometimes the images are perfectly harmless, but predators abuse the images and post them to lewd sites that encourage sharing images of minors. Teenagers often fail to realize these images and videos last forever online – the content can be taken and reposted elsewhere, and can result in lost opportunities for jobs or financial assistance.
8. Cyber-Bullying/Dating Violence
Teenagers often experience cyber-bullying and dating violence, situations in which someone attempts to maintain power and control over them. In dating violence, even if there is not physical abuse, manipulation and mental domineering are common. Abusive partners demand their victims account for where they are at every moment of every day. Teenagers are often unaware this behavior is abnormal, inappropriate and abusive – their limited dating experience leads them to believe this behavior is normal, and the controlling behavior and possessiveness is ‘romantic’. Social networking sites, instant messages and emails are methods of communication the abuser may use to keep to keep tabs on their victims.
Fortunately there are several good online tools that can help parents protect their family against cyber-threats like these. They are very affordable with the cost ranging from free to around $40. One of the most popular on the market is NetNanny from Content Watch (www.netnanny.com) which offers dynamic content filtering, profanity masking, remote management and even protection for Android smartphones. Another good one is K9 Web Protection from Blue Coat (www.k9webprotection.com) which works with both Windows and Mac computers as well as iPhone and iPad.
Parents who wish to have the most control and monitoring of their computers should consider Action Alert from KeyWare (www.actionalert.com) which has a unique real-time monitoring and recording feature in addition to robust content filtering and website blocking. Here are some ways Action Alert can be used to protect against the Top 8 Online Dangers:
- Sexual Predators- Parents with Action Alert can stop this relationship as soon as it begins, because they are always aware of their children’s activities online using the Action Alert monitoring feature. Additionally, Action Alert blocks access to sites with pornographic materials – sending links to these sites is a favorite tactic of cyber predators. Finally, if somehow a child develops a relationship with a predator despite parents being able to review their online activity, Action Alerts will receive a text message warning as soon as their child reveals personal information such as their address or phone number, preventing the predator from arranging a face to face meeting. With Action Alert, parents can ensure their children are completely safe from predators by being involved in their children’s online life.
- Financial Predators- Action Alert will instantly be alert parents when their child types key words online, such as their address, phone number, or other personal details. Rather than find out years later, after the damage has been done, parents are already aware of the threat and able to stop the trouble before it begins.
- Over sharing- By using Action Alert, parents can monitor what children are posting online, and ensure their children’s lives are not an open book online.
- Inappropriate videos or pictures- At the first sign of posting such content, particularly in places without adequate privacy controls, Action Alert parents are aware of the situation and can intervene to guide their children on what is safe to post, where it is safe to post, and the long term consequences of posting. Parents can monitor their children’s time online and enforce permissions remotely at any time.
- Inappropriate Behavior in Online Games- While many parents would feel unprepared to protect their children in an MMORPG, parents armed with Action Alert can monitor their children’s in game discussions and ensure they are playing safe! Real time alerts also protect children by instantly alerting parents via email and text whenever children type keywords you designate.
- Inappropriate Behaviors/ “Sexting”- If children engage in inappropriate behavior, or are solicited to engage in this behavior by someone, Action Alert parents will know and can intervene before the situation worsens. Also the child knows their online activity is being monitored, greatly lessening the chance they will engage in this behavior.
- Gaming Addiction- Using Action Alert, parents can also monitor the amount of time their child actually spends playing computer games and discuss healthy amounts of play time with their child. Additionally, parents can set limits on the amount of time children are allowed to play games each day. These controls, in conjunction with open dialogue, can stop gaming addiction before it starts.
- Cyber-bullying/Dating Violence- Parents with Action Alert would become aware of this problem far earlier than parents who have to rely on other signs, such as if the situation degrades into physical abuse. Action Alert ensures parents know earlier, and can help their teen realize the unhealthiness of the relationship. Just like in dating, teenagers need the help and guidance of their parents online, and Action Alert helps parents achieve that guidance.
[This article was originally published in R.G. McGraw Insurance Agency September 2012 newsletter.]Share