A child drove 200 miles to meet a stranger: Here’s how to make sure your kid doesn’t do the same
CHARLESTON, S.C. — The internet is no joke.
It’s full of Twitter haters, love scams, angry mobs, deepfakes and reminders of the eighth season of “Game of Thrones.” This week, an 11-year-old boy drove across South Carolina to meet a man he had met on Snapchat.
In other words, the web can be a dangerous place if used without caution. Here are the most common threats:
It’s easy for kids to fall into this trap. Some might search for it, while others may stumble on something inappropriate without meaning to, as many websites aren’t blocked, Symantec’s digital security company Norton LifeLock says.
“It’s possible for children to stumble across this type of material when doing a search using one of the web sites that is specifically designed to help people find information on the internet,” like search engines, a report from Child Safety on the Information Highway says.
How to avoid it: Set up parental control software. You can also use one of the child-friendly browsers that block websites it deems unsuitable for kids, Norton LifeLock suggests.
And in general, give them their privacy, but not too much privacy. Share an email, check in on them when they’re in front of a screen and stay in the loop about what they’re doing and who they’re talking to when they’re surfing the web.
In the age of online dating and social media, danger can lurk around every corner.
Sometimes nothing is what it seems on the fun and colorful pictures on Instagram or Twitter. And many people are not who they claim to be on their user profiles. Be smart about who you talk to and what you share. Never give away too much personal information about yourself to someone you meet on the internet (In other words, they don’t need to know where you live or, let’s say, your social security number).
Bottom line: Make sure your kid does not go off alone to meet someone they’ve only interacted with online.
With children now able to scour through the internet at younger ages, many incidents of bullying often take place online.
The bullying can be indirect (if your account gets hacked and the bully posts things that are untrue), or direct (the bully directly messages you with hurtful comments), according to SafeTeens.org.
In many ways, the organization says, cyberbullying can be more dangerous than traditional bullying as the bully can hide behind a fake username and, if the posts go viral, can gather mass amounts of support, making the bullied child feel even more isolated.
Let them know it’s wrong: Try to stay involved in your child’s online activity and let them know bullying is wrong wherever it’s done. Encourage them not to respond or send insulting messages, the New York Library suggests. If something makes them feel uneasy, make sure they have adults they feel comfortable sharing it with.
Too much screen time is not a good idea. The Center for Parenting Education says kids between 8 and 28 years old spend an average of 44.5 hours a week in front of a screen. That’s barely less than two whole days.
And 23% have reported feeling addicted to video games, the center said.
The dangers? They can become obese, find it harder to go to sleep or boost their chances of developing depression, anxiety or attention problems, the center reported.
Know the signs: If your child becomes easily angry, sneaks in front of a screen or lies about how long they’ve been online, those are all good signs to start paying attention. Find alternative activities and set technology rules for the whole family, South Carolina’s Office of the Attorney General says.
“Post the rules near the family computer and talk often about the rules since most children and teens now access the internet remotely,” the office said.
Take note adults of the world, we fall victim to these scams too, way too often. The Federal Trade Commission reported Americans lost more than $143 million in online romance scams last year.
A good tip to remember for all of us is that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Common scams targeting kids include claims that they’ve won money and requests for payments to receive awards, Norton LifeLock says.
In other words: If a link seems suspicious, don’t click. Educate yourself and your children on which websites are safe and what kinds of things to avoid.