In the new EU Kids Online Report, a fascinating study of kids across Europe, some of the key recommendations include some big surprises; such as online risk may actually carry some benefits for our kids. The position the researchers hold is that by experiencing risk and learning coping strategies, kids actually become wiser and more resilient, in the same way that a driver who learns how to manage traffic is a better one than someone who only learns to drive on empty streets. In effect, the parents who are most engaged, filtering and monitoring may be preventing their children from experiencing the educational side of risk (note: I’m not saying harm, just risk).
Additionally, they also felt that parents and policy makers need to be more active and earlier with kids to recognize newer risks. They encourage parents to actively seek out and use parental control tools and… (Here’s the part I want to address today):
“…parents should get online themselves, talk to their child about the internet and even share an online activity with them. Those who encounter risk are not necessarily those who experience more harm, so parents should be encouraged to worry less about the former than the latter, where possible guiding their children so that harms are avoided or managed. Without undermining parents’ trust in their children, parents should be more aware of and more empowered to respond constructively to children’s (including teens’) rare but sometimes upsetting experiences of harm.”
It’s clear we need to empower parents to have more constructive conversations with their children about possible online scenarios that include risk. And if parents aren’t aware of those issues, we need to help them become aware, without hyping myths such as stranger danger. There are plenty of real and statistically significant problems awaiting our children online, yet most can be managed with foresight, preparation, sometimes use of technology, and often understanding.
Here are my top 5 categories of online threats; weighed heavily by the likeliness you’ll encounter them:
Malware - according to the most recent Norton Cybercrime Report, 2/3 of the world’s kids have been hit by cybercrime and various forms of malware are the most comment problem.
Online Scams – could be a work-from-home scam, “click here to win the music player”, or “We detect your computer has a virus; download the scanner”. Kids are so vulnerable to scams.
Hacked Online Accounts – in the top 3 for the Norton Cybercrime Report. The leading social network just reported that every day, they block 100’s of thousands of attempts to hack into accounts. Up to 10% of respondents in our study have had accounts hacked. And there are other concerns about social networks, like clicking a dangerous link or simply not setting privacy and security settings well.
Cyberbullying – Rates might be falling. Average reported figures are 20% of kids will experience cyberbullying; European report showed only 6%. Long overdue attention now being paid to the witnesses of cyberbullying who help foster the environment.
Sexting – Kids will imitate adult behavior, good and bad. As many as 1/3 of high school boys with cell phones will receive a sext!
In the next few blog entries, I’ll craft some scenarios to assist you in creating conversation with your children about these issues. If you have ideas and suggestions about these topics or others you think I should consider adding, please comment below.