How to help your child become street smart in a risky digital era


Everyone, including your child, is potentially a click away from having a virtual sex interaction or being exposed to explicit material

Everyone, including your child, is potentially a click away from having a virtual sex interaction or being exposed to explicit material. Picture by Phoebe Okal

According to statistics, 93 per cent of children aged 12-17 in the US alone, are online. In the developing world, school age children are also going online.

They are posting provocative pictures, videos and blogs about their deepest personal experiences, and in the process exposing themselves to a lot of danger.

But because the industry lacks censorship and significant gaps exist in the law, it is incumbent upon parents to protect their children from the pitfalls.

Internet pitfalls

While the Internet offers many opportunities for learning, entertainment and personal growth, children face numerous risks online.

For example, sexual predators can, anonymously, gain access to our children, violating the safe walls of our homes without our knowledge.

In the US alone, there are over 644,865 registered sex offenders. The Internet has become the leading technology for distributing hard-core pornography, grossing $13 billion annually.

Everyone — including your child — is potentially one click away from having a virtual sexual interaction or being exposed to explicit material. The challenge for parents is to educate themselves and their children on how to use the Internet safely.


There have been some highly publicised cases of exploitation involving the Internet. Crimes are being committed online and in some cases, children have been victimised.

A child could be exposed to material that is sexual, hateful or violent in nature, or encourages activities that are dangerous or illegal via chat areas, e-mail or even instant messaging.

A child might provide information or arrange an encounter that could risk his or her safety or the safety of other family members.

Child molesters have used chat areas, e-mail, and instant messages to gain a child’s confidence and then arranged a face-to-face meeting.

There are no serious censors on the Internet. Anyone in the world — companies, governments, organisations and individuals can publish material on the Internet. While positive experiences exist, there are many risks in online world.

Like the rest of society, it is made up of a wide array of people. Most are decent and respectful, but some are rude, obnoxious, insulting or even mean and exploitative.

To tell children to stop using the Internet would be equal to asking them to forgo school because students are sometimes victimised or bullied there. The better option would be to teach them how to be “street smart.”

Open parental communication

Having open communication with your children, using computer resources, and getting online yourself will help you obtain the full benefits of these systems and alert you of potential problems that could occur with their use.

Search engines do not, by default, filter out material that might be inappropriate for children, but some offer a child safe option while others are designed specifically for children.

Some websites make it mandatory for users to provide their age and/or to enter a credit-card number on the presumption that children do not have access to such cards. Parents must monitor their credit-card bills for such charges.

Some ISPs and e-mail services include filters as part of their service. One type is the “spam” filter, which limits unsolicited e-mail including mail promoting sexually explicit material.

In cases where it is not provided, parents can buy a software that will attempt to limit the type of mail that gets through.

Parents can programme the software to filter out sites that contain nudity, sexual content, hateful or violent material or that advocate the use of alcohol, drugs or tobacco.

Some can also be configured to prevent children from revealing information about themselves such as their name, address or telephone number. A directory of these filtering programmes is available at

Family rules

By taking responsibility for their children’s online computer use, parents can greatly minimise any potential risks of being online.

Make it a rule to never give out identifying information — home address, school name or telephone number — in public forums such as chat or newsgroups.

Be sure you are dealing with someone both you and your children know and trust before giving out this information via e-mail.

Do not post photographs of your children in newsgroups or on websites that are available to the public.

Consider using a pseudonym or a pen name, avoid listing your child’s name and e-mail address in any public directories or profiles, find out about your ISP’s privacy policies and exercise your options for how your personal information may be used.
Get to know the Internet and any services your child uses. Find out if your child has a free web-based e-mail account and learn their user names and passwords.

Never allow a child to arrange a face-to-face meeting with someone they “meet” on the Internet without parental permission.

If a meeting is arranged, make the first one in a public place, and be sure to accompany your child.
Encourage your children to tell you if they encounter suspicious or obscene messages.

If you or your child receive a message that is of a sexual nature, or threatening, forward a copy of the message to your ISP, and ask for their assistance. Instruct your child not to click on any links that are contained in e-mail from persons they don’t know.

Remember that people online may not be who they seem, thus someone indicating that “she” is a “12-year-old girl” could in reality be a 40-year-old man.
Set reasonable rules and guidelines for computer use by your children and monitor your child’s compliance with these rules.

A child’s excessive use of the Internet, especially late at night, may be a clue that there is a potential problem. Personal computers and online services should not be used as electronic babysitters. The same rules that apply to computer use, also apply to cellular telephones.

The writer is an ICT and telecom strategy analyst.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Http://Thevintageskeleton.Com/
    Jul 07, 2014 @ 03:23:28

    This is a topic which is close to my heart…
    Cheers! Where are your contact details though?



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