Myths and misperceptions about online safety are roadblocks parents and educators must overcome so as to fully understand the risks facing kids on the Internet. It is easy to assume that a child knows better than to talk to a “stranger” online, that they would never share their personal information or post inappropriate or hurtful messages online. But the reality is they don’t always know better. “Strangers” quickly become friends, therefore the thought of sharing personal information isn’t that big of an issue anymore for a child. Anonymity is key, allowing a predator to manipulate a child into believing whatever they want. That same anonymity gives many kids the confidence to post those mean and hurtful messages. Understanding the Internet’s reality is essential to becoming more educated about protecting children.
MYTH: It is only the disobedient or sexually forward kids who are targeted online.
It doesn’t matter if a child is a straight A student, is considered well adjusted, and has a lot of friends. Every child has an emotional vulnerability that can be exploited if it is accessed by someone with the skills and motivations to manipulate. Trouble can find your child; even if they have done everything they think they should to protect themselves. Communication is key to helping your kids stay safe, so talk openly and often about where they go and what they do while they are on the Internet.
MYTH: Internet predators are easy to spot. They are always aggressive, rude and offensive.
Internet predators initially tend to be very friendly and even charming, claiming to understand their victims and sympathize with any issues the victim might be facing. This is called “grooming” and it lulls a child into a false sense of security. It is important to constantly communicate with your children about their Internet use and understand who they might be chatting with online.
MYTH: Child Pornography is not that big of an issue on the Internet.
According to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, more than 20,000 images of child pornography are posted on the Internet every week. That means literally millions of people can see that image, making that child the victim of sexual exploitation a million times over. Images of child pornography are evidence of a crime scene. The fact is child pornography is illegal…Having it, emailing it, or posting it on a website.
MYTH: Websites created for children are always monitored and safe to use.
MYTH: Cyberbullying, like bullying in school, is just an example of kids being kids and doesn’t really harm anyone.
Cyberbullying can be devastating to a child, and this problem is not going away. According to i-SAFE, 53% of teens admitted they had said hurtful things to someone online, while 7% said they did it “quite often”. Keep the lines of communication open, letting the child know that they can always talk about their experiences online. If you suspect someone is bullying a child online, tell your Internet service provider and the CyberTipline at www.cybertipline.com or by calling 1-800-843-5678.