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Protecting kids from adult content

We recently asked Followers of our Safe Social Media for Kids Facebook page to tell us what worries them the most, when it comes to keeping their kids safe online. The survey found respondents were most concerned about protecting their children from the risks of viewing adult content.

Thanks again to everyone who took part in our survey.

Today, we’re blogging tips that will help you minimse risks for your children.

Parents are only human

Before we delve into the practical stuff, we think it’s worth mentioning that keeping your child 100% safe from every risk online is virtually impossible.

Like most kids under 13, your child is likely to spend time out of your care, at sleepovers, play dates or even with a babysitter.

With this in mind, even the most vigilant parent in the world will have trouble keeping tabs on their child’s online activity 100% of the time.

This is why we have also included information on what to do if your child does happen to view adult content. Knowing how to handle these situations is just as important as working to prevent them.

Tips for prevention

When it comes to strategies for keeping your child safe online, it’s important to choose methods that match your parenting style, and your child’s habits.

There is a lot of advice relating to keeping kids safe online, which is why we always recommend choosing the methods that work for your family, and your child.

The tips below are based on feedback from social media experts and parents we have interviewed over the past 12 months.

Using this information, we’ve compiled the most useful tips for you, our readers.

Supervision is king

Having a sound supervision strategy for your children is the best way to minimise the risk of exposing them to harmful adult content online.

Yes, there are a number of monitoring programs out there, but we have found that the most effective strategy is simply keeping your eyes on your child (especially when they are under 13).

Here’s how:

  1. Keep track of devices in your home. If you have multiple portable devices, ensure they are password encrypted so your child cannot access them without you.
  2. When your child does use a device, make them use it in a common living area, such as the living room or dining area. That way you can easily see what they’re accessing.
  3. To make supervision easier, allow a specific period time for your child per day. This could be after school, once all chores and homework is done. That way you can put this time aside to have a cup of coffee and catch up on your reading or social media, while you keep an eye on them.
  4. Use an egg timer or even an old-fashioned sand timer so your child knows how long they have online. Here are some guidelines to consider.
Age of child Screen* recommendation
18 months or younger Avoid screens, unless video chatting with relatives or other family friends.*
18 to 24 months. Only if you find quality content to watch with your child, or in the case of games, make sure you are playing the game with them.*
2 to 5 years 1 hour per day.**
5 to 13 years 2 hours per day.***

 

* Includes computers, TV and any device with a screen.

** Source: American Academy of Pediatrics

*** Source: Raising Children Network Australia

  1. Consider creating a rewards program for your child. This could mean swapping chores or homework for screen time. For example, 5 chores equates to 10 minutes of screen time. A chore chart is a good way to keep track of this, and you can weight each chore based on what you think it is worth.

What happens if my child does see adult content online?

Elizabeth Schroeder, Executive Director of the a sex education organisation at Rutgers University in the US told the New York Times:

“Your child is going to look at porn at some point. It’s inevitable.”

If your child does stumble on adult content, or if they do happen to search for it, opening channels of communication is the most important first step. Ask them how they discovered the content.

If they searched for it through curiousity, take the time ask them why. It may be that your child is curious about sexual reproduction. There is no set age for the birds and the bees talk, and thanks to the Internet, this is happening sooner and sooner for parents and kids today.

It is important not to shame your child for looking at adult content. Explain that it is normal to be curious about sex, but be sure to highlight that pornography does not represent relationships in the ‘real’ world.

For real life case studies about how parents have dealt with talking to their kids about looking at adult content, visit this great piece by the New York Times.

Find out more

For more tips on keeping your kids safe online, please visit our blog again. We also have a Facebook community, where you can connect with other parents and learn more about parenting in the fast-paced digital world we now live in.

Online Predator

Keeping Your Child Safe from Online Predators

One of the most important lessons children need to learn about the online world is that people are not always who they say they are on the internet. This week we’re covering “bunny hunting,” a disturbing practice in which child abusers send messages or photos to kids they don’t know in an effort to get them to respond.

According to the Washington Post, a 2014 FBI report found that one in five children between the ages of 12 and 18, who regularly logged onto the internet, said they received an unwanted sexual solicitation online. And only 25% of these children told a parent.

What to watch out for

Geotags

If your kids are active on any form of social media, talk to them about geotags. Child abusers and stalkers use geotags to determine a child’s location. Geotags are electronic tags that assign a geographical location to a photo or video. For example, if your child posts a photo with a geotag to Instagram, then an online stalker could figure out where they live, especially if they’re posting multiple photos with geotags.

To keep your child safe, disable the geotag locator on their phone. The steps for disabling the geotag locator are different depending on the phone type; however, for most phones, you’ll have to go to the settings menu and disable the location option to turn off all tracking.

Voice modulating software

Child abusers and online predators often use voice modulating software to disguise their age and gender. This is a common practice among adults who contact kids through video games.

Authority figures

Online predators are often seen as trustworthy figures in the community. They can be judges, teachers, religious leaders, or even law enforcement officers, who take advantage of their position of authority. The Washington Post reports that in a recent case in Loudoun County, Virginia, a government official was arrested for using Skype to send sexual solicitations to over 70 children.

How can you keep your child safe from “bunny hunters” who engage in online sexual exploitation?

Tell your child to:

  • Inform you immediately if they feel uncomfortable about someone or something online. This is especially true if someone threatened them online or sent them something inappropriate.
  • Never send a photo or picture (especially of themselves) to someone online without first talking to you.
  • Never agree to meet someone they meet online.
  • Never give out any personal information about themselves, their family, or their acquaintances without a parent’s permission. Tell them this includes their address, telephone number, school name and address, social security number, and any information about their parents or family members, such as work addresses and work telephone numbers. Even seemingly benign information, such as a friend’s name, the name of their baseball team, or the name of the field where they play, can all be used by an online predator to figure out who your child is and where they’re located. According to the Crime Victims Center, predators can spend months gathering detailed information about a child before taking any action.
  • Never give any passwords to anyone.
  • Never respond to any messages that make them feel uncomfortable, embarrassed, and/or bad about themselves.

Although the statistics are scary, by following these tips, you can help your child avoid becoming an online predator’s target. Taking that first step and beginning the discussion with your child about internet and social media safety is the hardest part.

For more online safety tips, you can stay tuned to our blog or join our Facebook community.

Computer crime concept

How Terrorists Target Kids on Social Media

Monitoring your child online is more important than ever because terrorist organizations, including ISIS, are increasingly using online propaganda to target young children and recruit them. According to the Verge, “social media platforms have become the vehicle of choice in spreading propaganda and the recruiting platform for terrorism.”

ISIS uses its social media savvy to create an online community of followers. They utilize Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp to reach their target audience and spread their message through the use of popular hashtags and the production of high-tech videos.

In May 2016, the Guardian reported that ISIS had even launched an Arabic language app called Huroof targeted at kids. The app teaches children the Arabic alphabet using cartoons, bright colors, and jihadist terminology.

While the US government and social media companies are doing their best to stem the spread of ISIS propaganda, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told CNN, “It’s something we need to do a lot more work on. We are seeing 90,000, I think, tweets a day that we’re combating.”

Who is at risk?

Children and teens, particularly Muslims, are at risk. While young boys are recruited to become fighters and girls are targeted to become the brides of ISIS fighters, ISIS is now shifting its social media tactics to encourage young followers in Western countries to commit acts of terror in their home countries, rather than traveling overseas to fight.

The Investigative Project on Terrorism, a non-profit research group, reports that terrorist groups recruit children for two reasons:

  1. Children are easier to brainwash, as their minds are impressionable.
  2. Recruiting children ensures a next generation of fighters.

ISIS recruits children as young as 12 and 13 to undergo military training, and the Taliban recruits children as young as 7 to carry out suicide bombings.

What’s the solution?

Individual social media users who create counter-narratives to extremist terrorist propaganda are often the best solution, since these grassroots narratives can be more powerful, personal, and compelling than the ones crafted by institutions and the government. Individual messages of hope and peace on social media can resonate, especially with children.

One such individual is Mohamed Amin Ahmed, a Somali-American father of four in Minneapolis, Minnesota, who has created a website called Average Mohamed and a series of short cartoons, aimed at Muslim American children ages 8 to 16, to counter extremist media. The Average Mohamed project is a counter-ideology mechanism that teaches kids, through colorful, easy-to-understand cartoon videos, to promote peace and anti-extremism.

Mohamed referred to himself on NPR as “an average guy espousing the values of majority Muslims.”

In additional to outreach and speaking events in schools, mosques, and the local community, Average Mohamed videos appear on social media, including in Facebook news feeds, to reach kids when they’re online.

What can parents do?

If your kids already have social media accounts, it’s important that you actively monitor their accounts. Tell them not to accept friend requests from people they don’t know and to come to you with any questions about any content they see on social media.

You can explain to them the importance of being a conscientious consumer of online content (i.e. not everything they read online is true), and help them identify propaganda versus factual information. With older children and teens, you can go deeper, explaining that propaganda often distorts reality and is created to influence people’s opinions.

Although we live in a complex world, there are both grassroots and governmental efforts in place to make the internet and social media safer for children, and to limit terrorist groups’ influence over young minds.

For more insights into how children and young people use social media, please visit and Like our Safe Social Media for Kids Facebook page.

 

Hacker using laptop. Lots of digits on the computer screen.

Sexual predators – what parents need to know

The possibility of your child falling victim to a sexual predator online is every parents greatest fear. According to the FBI, ‘online predators are everywhere’, but the good news is that the likelihood of your child becoming a victim is actually unlikely.

With this in mind, we’re taking some time to discuss the hard facts about online sexual predators, and what you as a parent can do to minimize risks for your children.

The facts about sexual predators*

  • Over 500,000 predators are on the Internet daily.
  • Children aged 12 to 15 years are more susceptible to grooming and manipulation.
  • Over 50% of victims are aged 12 to 15 years.
  • 89% of sexual advances towards children happen in chat rooms online or via instant messaging.
  • 27% of exploitation cases involve a predator asking a child for sexually graphic images of themselves.
  • 4% of children receive ‘aggressive’ solicitations, which includes an attempt to contact the child offline.

* Sourced from the FBI: Child Predators – The Online Threat Continues to Grow

What to watch out for

Sexual predators typically use online chat rooms as a gateway to contact children. Chat rooms built around the premise of communicating with strangers are probably the greatest threat to children, as online predators can easily contact a child using this kind of anonymous chat platform.

Many online games also offer chat functionality; so sexual predators may also target gaming chat rooms in the same way.

In the US, 40% of children have computers fitted with webcams in their bedroom. The FBI has warned that it is possible to turn a webcam on remotely, without the owner knowing.

Facebook and other social media websites are also a target for online predators, who are known to create fake identities and communicate with children through private messaging. In the US, 70% of children accept friend requests from individuals they have never met.

While these statistics are indeed harrowing, it’s important to remember that there are things you as a parent can do.

But first, let’s discuss what a sexual predator is likely to do once they make contact with a child. This will help you understand what to watch out for more effectively.

What happens once contact is made with a child?

The majority of sexual predators target children aged between 12 and 15 years. Children in this age group are more likely to be using social media and chat rooms already.

On top of this, children in this age bracket are likely to be grappling with issues relating to adolescence, in particular, the need to be independent of their parents. Studies show adolescence is indeed a difficult time for children, and many feel lonely or isolated.

This is not necessarily the fault of parents, but part of the journey of independence every young person must take. Of course, it also makes them more likely to seek connection online.

Online predators take advantage of vulnerable young people, who simply want to connect with others and feel accepted. They are master manipulators who essentially prey on children by building trust and validating their feelings.

Their goal is to establish an emotional connection with the child. Then, it may be days or even weeks before the sexual predator brings up sex or requests inappropriate photos from the child.

What can you do?

The biggest and greatest thing you can do to help your child is talk to them about the risks of being online. Yes, we know it’s not a comfortable topic, but it is necessary to speak about it openly and honestly with your child.

Of course, in order to explain the risks to your child, you need to understand them too. By reading this far, you have already done a great service to your child. You now know how sexual predators operate, and hopefully, you have a better grasp of what to watch out for.

To help the process along, we recommend speaking to your child about these important points:

  • Explain the risks of being online – especially the fact that people may create fake profiles to communicate with your child.
  • Mention chat rooms – including the risks associated with anonymous chat rooms.
  • Tell them only to Friend people they know – so they do not inadvertently ‘Friend’ a sexual predator.
  • Highlight what a sexual predator may do – for example, they may seem like you or I in the beginning, then they may ask for photos, give gifts or manipulate your child into doing sexual things.
  • Make sure they turn off their webcam – explain that other people can operate the webcam remotely.

For more information on keeping your child safe from sexual predators, please visit this website. If you’d like ongoing tips and insights into safe social media and parenting in this digital age, please join our Facebook community.