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PARENTS BEWARE: Will Your Teens Be Spending Christmas Online?

by on 15 January, 2014

At the time, my daughter was only 13 years old. She desperately wanted to go onto facebook (FB). We had a nice long chat about the ‘right’ time and to wait until she was a bit older, for a wide range of reasons, to which she totally agreed.

Shock on me, and on her, when I found out (as we always do) that she was aleady on FB! Another story for another day.

 

FB has become the big thing for our young adults today. Do you ever wonder what your teen is doing constantly on the internet or maybe always texting on their telephone? Afterall…many other teens are in the same boat, and yours is just ‘normal’. But what could be really going on?

The reality of the world our children are growing up in is that they are going to meet people and often strangers online, and not just their usual friends. Many young people are now having intimate, relationships online.

According to a survey conducted by the University of New Hampshire's Crimes Against Children Research Center, three-quarters of Net-initiated sexual exploitation victims were girls, aged 13 to 15. And three-quarters of the offenders were age 26 or older. Chat rooms were the most likely places for the relationships to start, with three-quarters of them beginning there. Most of the couples progressed to face-to-face sexual encounters with 93%of these involving illegal sex.

A. Here are some statistics from the study by the American Psychological Association called Online "Predators" and Their Victims:


• Internet offenders pretended to be teenagers in only 5 percent of the crimes studied by researchers.
• Nearly 75 percent of victims who met offenders face-to-face did so more than once.
• Young people who engaged in four or more risky online behaviors were much more likely to report receiving online sexual solicitations. The online risky behaviors included maintaining buddy lists that included strangers, discussing sex online with people they did not know in person and being rude or nasty online.

B. Many teens are unconcerned about the dangers of sharing personal info online.


• A majority of teens (58%) do not think posting photos or other personal info on social networking sites is unsafe. They should read the news.
• Nearly half of teens (47%) are not worried about others using their personal info in ways they do not want. About half (49%) are unconcerned posting personal info online might negatively affect their future. (Most employers now do a search for their prospective employees. (With some of the information and pictures I have found on MySpace, they should be concerned.)

C. Teens are increasingly active online and at potential risk of falling prey to online predators.


• A large majority of teens (71%) have established online profiles (including those on social networking sites such as MySpace, Friendster and Xanga), up from 61% in 2006.
• 69% of teens regularly receive personal messages online from people they do not know and most of them do not tell a trusted adult about it.
• Teens readily post personal info online. 64% post photos or videos of themselves, while more than half (58%) post info about where they live. Females are far more likely than male teens to post personal photos or videos of themselves (70% vs. 58%).
• Nearly one in 10 teens (8%) has posted his or her cell phone number online.
• Overall, 19% of teens report they have been harassed or bullied online, and the incidence of online harassment is higher (23%) among 16 and 17 year-olds. Girls are more likely to be harassed or bullied than boys (21% vs. 17%).

D. Parents and guardians need to become more involved in monitoring their teens’ Internet use and talking to them about online safety.


• Teens whose parents have talked to them “a lot” about Internet safety are more concerned about the risks of sharing personal info online than teens whose parents are less involved. For instance, 65% of those whose parents have not talked to them about online safety post info about where they live, compared to 48% of teens with more involved parents.
• Teens whose parents have talked to them “a lot” about online safety are less likely to consider meeting face to face with someone they met on the Internet (12% vs. 20%).

Honestly? Our young people don't belong on online dating sites, like adults do. As they enter the world of dating, it should be with people they know in a real world context, not a cyber-world context. They - and their parents - should know more about their dates than what you can find out from the Internet. But online dating sites aren't the only place that teens meet online. They meet on all sorts of social media sites and platforms including ‘sexting’ (pornography and sexual text messages) over the phone.

HOW PARENTS CAN PROTECT THEIR CHILDREN

Internet access comes with a huge responsibility for both young adults and parents. True, it can give children an academic edge, help them explore their interests, and stay connected with friends and family, however, the Internet can also be a dangerous place and if not properly supervised our children can be exposed to inappropriate material and even become victims of online predators. However, with proper precautions and supervision your whole family can enjoy the benefits of the Internet.

Safety has to be first and foremost and can be achieved by doing the following:


• Be accessible to your children and supervise the use of the internet and telephone by your teens. Often times we as parents or guardians are to busy to notice what children are doing with their computers, ipads, ipods, iphones etc and use these gadgets as a means of ‘keeping’ our children ‘busy’ and ‘happy’, and ‘replacing’ our presence as parents. Children need parents to show that they are interested in their lives otherwise they will find ways of keeping themselves ‘happy’ and ‘entertained’.

• Place computers with Internet access in a central location in the home. When computers are in a central location they can be easily monitored but if placed in private places such as bedrooms children can quickly close inappropriate websites when they hear their parents coming.

• Get rid of the webcam. Webcams can be a great way to communicate with your friends and family, but leaving a teen unsupervised with a webcam can lead to your child’s strip show debut.

• Decide what online activities are age appropriate. Chat rooms, instant messaging, and websites such as YouTube, Myspace, and even Yahoo can be particularly dangerous for anybody under the age of 16. Any place where your child can be contacted privately by strangers is a potential lurking ground for predators. However, instant messaging and MySpace has become a popular form of communication. A reasonable compromise may be to allow your child to instant message/MySpace only people that they know in real life, and not new internet friends

• Discuss online behavior rules with your child. Write them down clearly and post them near the computer as a reminder. Instead of threatening your child that breaking the rules will mean that they must go to time-out, tell your child that breaking the rules will mean they lose internet privileges. Be clear about what your child can and cannot do online and be sure to emphasize the importance of keeping personal information private. Children should never tell anyone online their address, phone number, full name, school name or show anyone pictures of themselves.

• Invest in monitoring and filtering software. Programs such as NetNanny and Cyberpatrol can help you monitor your child’s activities and block inappropriate websites. However, be aware that these programs do not replace a watchful parent and can easily be disabled by computer savvy teens.

• Keep a close eye on behavior. Check your browser history frequently. Finding that the browser history has been cleared may be a sign that your child has been up to something they shouldn’t. Check your child’s favorites. Visit the websites they visit and see what it’s like for yourself.

• Be aware of the warning signs that something is wrong. If your child quickly closes programs whenever you walk into the room or becomes very secretive about what they do online they are sending up a huge red flag that they are doing something they shouldn’t. Be especially wary if your child begins receiving phone calls that they are secretive about or starts receiving gifts in the mail from people you don’t know.

• Talk to your child. This is probably the most important step. Talk to your child about internet safety and what can happen when people are not careful online. If your child goes online this is just as important as talking about smoking and drug use. Keep talking about it even if you think your child is being safe. Ask them about what they do online, who they talk to, what they saw. Show interest in what they do.
Remember that your job is to keep your kids safe, not to be their best friend.They might be angry at you for restricting their actions online, but it’s worth it.

• Tell your child that they are never to meet someone in real life that they met online.

• Tell your children not to put up any provocative pictures of themselves. This includes pictures showing a lot of skin and pictures of sexy poses. These send out a dangerous message with these types of images, and they are inviting attention from predators.

• Keep things age-appropriate. MySpace isn’t suitable for your 10-year-old, but it would be reasonable for your 15-year-old to have a private profile.

• Protecting personal information should be your number-one rule online.

• Remember to give your child more privileges online as they get older and let them prove to you that they are responsible.

• Some websites voluntarily restrict a child's access of certain features (such as Yahoo! chat). Children can easily get around this by lying about their birth dates when they create accounts. Tell your child never to lie about his/her age when signing up for something.

PLEASE REMEMBER:

• Internet predators are often smart and can easily manipulate even the smartest child. Just because your child is an honor student or never gets into trouble does not mean that they can not be taken advantage of.

• Computer-savvy kids and teens may be able to disable monitoring software and cover their tracks to hide inappropriate behavior.

• Taking away the Internet privileges of a child or teen who is used to unrestricted access may lead to tantrums and door slamming. Be prepared for this.

Parental control software is far from perfect and your kids are smarter than you may think, they can sometimes find a way around them. Companies developing this monitoring software make millions out of parents neglecting their responsibility as a parent. You cannot use a computer monitoring program to prevent them from watching indecent TV shows and movies, you cannot use a computer program to prevent them from reading indecent magazines and books, you cannot use a computer monitoring program to help them choose their friends or prevent them from using drugs, you can however, use a computer monitoring program to protect them from Internet predators and indecent material available on the Internet.

More and more young people are engaging in dangerous sexual activities and putting themselves in ver vulnerable situations, at a much younger age now, as young as nine due to easy access to electronic media. ONLY your presence as parents or guardians in their can guide and build boundaries and protection for them.

Protect your children this Christmas.

May You and Your families Have a Good, Safe and Peace filled Christmas

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