Children and Internet
- Description of internet pervasive nature
- Thesis Statement: Owing to its pervasive nature, the internet has become an integral part of children’s social environment. This makes it necessary for the EU to formulate and execute a regulation that universally advocates for a child friendly and safe cyberspace.
- Online Risks to Children
- Content risks
- Contact risks
- Aggressive online marketing
III. Measures to Protect Children Online
- Provision of Positive Content and Child safety zones
- Legal measures
- Self- and co-regulation
- Technical measures
- Awareness and education
Internet utilization is progressively spreading to the young children in the society. There is therefore, a rising need to conduct extensive research on threats that the internet poses to the young users and the opportunities available to enable them cope. This paper examines the risks and prospective mitigation measures. The paper’s principal assertion is that expert input from different disciplines, at a national and regional level would go a long way towards enhancing internet security for children. The paper presents a comprehensive argument toward this primary idea by clearly outlining the risks to which young internet users are exposed. The paper portrays bad content, illegal interactions, sexual solicitation, aggressive online marketing, overspending, distraction from other activities, and violation of physical wellbeing as the major types of risks associated with children being online. Content risks are indicated as internet threats arising from exposure of children to illegal or malicious information. Contact risks are brought about by online interactivity, while aggressive online marketing predisposes kids to uncensored web content. The paper further outlines potential risk mitigation measures including creation of child safety zones with positive content, legal measures, education and awareness, and technical measures among others. The concluding remarks place emphasis on the issue of enhancing online safety for children.
As the internet penetrates virtually all aspects of the global economy and society, it is progressively becoming an integral element of children’s lives. Although it can bring significant benefits for children’s development and education, it also predisposes them to take risks like harmful interactions with adults and other children, access to improper content, and exposes them to aggressive online marketing. By being constantly online, children can unknowingly convey their personal data or make their computers vulnerable to malicious hackers. Even though these risks could be considered to be an extension of existing offline risks that children face daily, there are few measures in place to protect them in a virtual world. Owing to its pervasive nature, the internet has become an integral part of children’s social environment. This makes it necessary for the EU among other supra-national organizations to formulate and express regulations that universally advocates for a child friendly and safe cyberspace.
Online Risks to Children
Modern children are now being called “digital natives” since they are becoming adults under the influence of the internet. This clearly implies that whenever they get a chance, children use the internet. The extensive exposure of children to the internet is further emphasized by the fact that there are more than a trillion distinctive web pages, and children have a chance to explore this vast assortment of web content. The internet is also characterized by interactivity through social media platforms. Consequently, online risks likely to affect children can be categorized into two principal classes namely content and contact risks as discussed further herein.
Content risks to children can be determined as belonging to three major sub-categories including illegal content, harmful or age-inappropriate content, and negative advice. The possible consequences of these risks vary based on the threat posed and factors like the resilience and age of a child. Illegal content refers to all unlawful information that is published on the internet. This could include discriminatory remarks or images, and hate speech among others. Conversely, age-inappropriate content constitutes information that is not necessarily illegal, but is still not suitable for kids and may negate their positive development. This could include violent games, adult pornography, and reports on religion or ethnicity driven conflicts among others. Children can deliberately search for such content if recommended by friends or they may even stumble upon it accidentally and continue searching for it. The other content risk to which kids are susceptible is harmful online advice. For instance, sites that sensationalize alcohol or drugs can entice children to consume the same, leading to their addiction at an early age. Further portrayal of certain body images as models can make children insecure about themselves, leading to an increase in eating disorders like anorexia. In extreme cases, harmful online advice may drive kids to commit suicide.
As indicated, contact risks take place when children interact online with other people in an indiscriminate manner. These risks primarily include cyber grooming, exposure to hateful online interaction and online harassment. Cyber grooming is a phrase used to describe the tendency of adults to form trusting relationships with children, yet their intent is to exploit them or have sexual contact with them. This is a criminal act in many countries, as the Convention of Council of Europe on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation considers sexual solicitation a serious crime. Online harassment currently features as the most common contact risk that children encounter. It could involve humiliation, intimidation and embarrassment, and ultimately end up in cyber bullying. The latter refers to a situation where persons or groups intentionally and frequently use communication technologies to cause harm to others.
Online Marketing to Kids
Online advertisement of age-limited products to children like prescription drugs, cigarettes, and alcohol brings about the concern that these marketing ploys understate the risk posed by such lifestyles. Such risky and aggressive marketing adverts could also link kids to suppliers of illicit substances. It is also crucial to note that minors cannot distinguish between genuine and falsified adverts. In addition, minors’ ability to distinguish between advertisement and content is not fully developed. Children may thus end up ordering expensive products online but end up receiving products that are not equivalent to what they paid for. These attributes make children vulnerable to unfair buying and selling practices. The diminished capacity to understand adverts also exposes kids to online conmen. Children may for example be convinced by unknown online dealers to deposit a huge amount of money in exchange of certain desired products, but end up losing that money without receiving the promised products.
Research has shown that children are usually exposed to risks of sexual solicitation when they interact with unknown adults through the internet. Although this risk may be relatively low, children that share information with unknown strangers may ultimately be introduced to sexual-related discussions mainly through chat rooms and instantaneous texting. Online sexual solicitation may ultimately result to “dedipix” ,which is a recent trend that requires children to post photographs exposing their private body parts. Children may as well be required to post videos exposing phonographic acts, and these may then be shared through certain online platforms.
Online interaction of children with strangers may as well culminate to various activities that may perpetuate criminal and civil crimes. Research has for example shown that children can share vital information that include privacy as well as copyrighted sites with their friends who may in return download copyrighted materials without the owners’ consent. This may culminate to legal proceedings that may cause families to incur heavy fines as well as put a family’s ability to access the internet at the danger of being dangled. The use of internet by children may as well expose them to the risk of engaging in illegal gambling especially when they have access to their parents’ credit cards. Although most children may only be interested in played games using the internet, they might click on gambling sites by mistake or out curiosity. Children may ultimately register into casinos, pokers and bingo games that might require them to make prior financial commitment so as to stand a chance of winning virtual money. This may attribute to huge financial losses as children may end up gambling away all huge amounts of their parents’ savings.
Children’s ability to access and enroll in various online services may cause parents to incur huge financial costs. Research has shown that most children that are able to access gaming activities through the internet tend to register for fee-based gaming and gambling activities if they have access to means of payment. This may cause such children to spend huge amounts of family money especially because they tend to engage in these activities on regular basis. Online marketing directed to children may cause them to unknowingly make huge online application purchases. Research has shown that app developers use cunning tactics to generate huge amounts of money by offering free app installations. While most of the free apps are usually finished within a short time, children tend to unknowingly purchase apps that tend to cost huge amounts of money. The app purchases acts as a clear avenue through which app developers can generate significant profits. This explains the fact that children’s ability to spend a small fortune of their family savings without their parent’s knowledge may ultimately lead to online overspending.
Risk of being distracted from other activities
Children’s use of computers in place of watching their favorite television programs may be perceived to be a constructive activity. Spending a lot of time on the internet however raises concern on the potential risk of distracting children from various social activities that may be important for their physical and psychological wellbeing. Research has shown that most children that have access to the internet spend most of their free time playing online games rather than watching television or participating in various social activities. Children for example tend to withdrawn from family and friends, as they prefer to spend a lot of time doing something online. They may as well prefer to engage in online games than engaging in various outdoor sports and games.
The risk of jeopardizing children’s physical wellbeing
Physical risks have often been associated with children’s participation in various activities online. Research has shown that children’s extended use of online services that include watching video and playing games may increase the risk of obesity among other physical effects. Research has shown that the internet is an important environmental factor that has seen more than 25% of United States’ minors becoming obese. This is due to the fact that children can spend up to more than five hours on the internet, which increases their risk of becoming obese. Research has as well shown that playing online games exposes children to the risk of developing various physical defects that include seizure, physical injury and shifting heart rate. Scholars have for example suggested that children’s participation in online games may trigger epileptic seizure. This is mainly caused by certain “flicker frequencies” as well as various flashing images that can cause seizure among children living with photosensitive epilepsy. Excessive online game playing has as well been related to a particular form of physical injury that is commonly referred to as Nintendinitis. Nintendinitis defines a certain type of sports injury that is normally attributed to severe pain on the muscle tendon of the right thumb that usually results from constant pressing of buttons when playing games.
Measures to Protect Children Online
It is evident that children are exposed to a variety of risks when they are online. This raises diverse policy issues. However, most of these policies that are implemented to protect children are complex. Recently, protection of children who are online has become a huge concern, and numerous countries are trying to re-assess the already existing policies to develop better policy responses. Nevertheless, some countries are already more advanced compared to others. For instance, the EU Safer Internet Programme (SIP) is an example of regional endeavor, which plays a principal responsibility in promoting safety of children when they are online. The EU should continue to strive to make children’s safety a priority by formulating the following policies.
Provision of Positive Content and Child safety zones
The EU members and several other countries have a belief that protecting children online involves creation of positive online content. This entails provision of content that will not only assist the child to develop mentally, but also that is violence-free. Despite the fact that provision of such positive online content is challenging, there is a need to create different content for other internet services.
It is important to note that by providing legal measures, the frameworks will protect children’s privacy without having to enforce it. In some regions like Canada and Europe, the general data protection legalities apply to children’s personal data without proper specific. Therefore, the EU should make sure that the laws are more specific, especially on the punishment for any crime committed online or provision of illegal content to the children.
Self- and co-regulation
There is a tendency of governments consenting to self and co-regulation for its convenience. This way, voluntary commitments are better tailored in specific situations like when children are using the social media network sites.
Government authorities realize that there is no single approach to address various complexities associated with children’s online services. With each technology proving to have its strengths and limitations, government authorities have realized the need to adopt technology-enabled mechanisms to help address the various risks associated with children using online services. Recent research on the most advanced technology has shown that certain technology-based mechanisms that include reporting of abusive online functions as well as labeling of content-related frameworks can help to mitigate risks thereby enhancing safety of children using online services. Certain national policies have been employed in different countries to help address the various risks associated with children’s online participation. These policies vary greatly in relation to their ability to rely on technical measures. Although certain countries have spearheaded the employment of technical mechanism to safeguard children online, they have not been able to promote quality reliance on technology to promote technical safeguards. This is due to the fact that most governments have concentrated on promoting age-appropriate access to internet content. This has however proven ineffective, as most children have been able to avoid using age verification systems that might limit them from access particular information. Governments can however adopt mandatory filtration of online information, which perpetuate relevant information that can be readily available to the whole population while limiting availability of illegal content.
Raising awareness and peer education
Raising awareness is an important tool that can be employed in different countries to help children, teachers and caregivers understand the various risks associated with children being online. Research has shown that employing effective awareness campaigns can help children that use online services to refrain from non-constructive messages, address opportunities for positive usage of online services as well as promote coping and risk mitigation strategies. The integration of internet literacy with education curriculum can for example be used to equip children with skills that can help them to use internet services for their benefits while avoiding the various risks associated with being online. The content of internet-related education varies greatly with most nations of the world emphasizing on the need to enhance cyber security. Countries like Australia and United Kingdom have however adopted a policy strategy that embarks inclusive concepts to promote internet literacy. These countries’ strategy mainly includes the idea of “digital citizenship”, which is mainly concerned about promoting coping strategies as well as responsible online participation. Preventive policy approaches have equally been adopted to promote intervention measures in schools so as to equip children with coping measures to address risks associated with being online.
Shared multi-stakeholder responsibility
Common understanding confirms the fact that online children protection can be enhanced through employment of shared responsibilities among all the concerned stakeholders. Significant participation of varying stakeholders that play different important roles can help to promote safety among children online. Government authorities provide leadership that can help other stakeholders to develop quality understanding of relevant policies that seek to protect children online. Conversely, children have the duty of expressing positive communication as provided in the UN Convention on Children’s Rights. This would enable children that may be involved in negative communication online to report to relative authorities, which would ensure that corrective measures are employed. Parents as well have an important role in educating their children on the risks associated with children’s participation online. Parents equally have the role of assisting as well as guiding their children on when and how to use the internet.
Protection of children against any online risks has become one the emerging issues in the world today. This is because of the complex and the evolving nature of technology. Therefore, it is important to ensure that traditional internet safety aspects are updated to fit the new more advanced technology. In this case, it is important to note that most government policies are implemented under common understanding of protecting children. This can only be attained by making sure that a careful balance between the opportunities and risks offered by internet access to children is presented. It is also imperative for countries to formulate policies that are simple to comprehend for everybody. This means that both parents and children understand the policies set on the usage of the internet. If the government, parents, and other regulatory bodies work together, there is a chance of coming up with a standard policy that will enhance online safety for children. Additionally, the efficacy of the policy will be enhanced if all stakeholders including internet advertisers and web developers among others work in unison with the government.
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 LSE. Risks and Safety on the Internet, (viewed on 12th may 2014 from http://www2.cnrs.fr/sites/en/fichier/rapport_english.pdf), 29
 UNICEF. Child Safety Online: Global Challenges and Strategies, (viewed on 12th May 2014 from http://www.unicef.org/pacificislands/ict_eng.pdf), 45
 Kaveri Subrahmanyam. “The Impact of Home Computer Use on Children’s Activities and Development”, (Journal of Childern and Computer Technology, 10.2(2000)138
 Gwenn O’Keeffe. CyberSafe: Protecting and empowering kids in the digital world of texting, gaming, and social media. (Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics. 2010), 32.
 Anne Collier. A better safety net: It’s time to get smart about online safety, (School Library Journal 55.11(2009), 37.
 James Lantzy. Protecting children in cyberspace: A higher education case study. (Humanities and Social Sciences 70.1(2009), 110.
 OECD. The Protection of Children Online, (viewed on 12th May, 2014 from http://www.oecd.org/sti/ieconomy/childrenonline_with_cover.pdf), 11
 Whitaker, Jodi & Bushman, Brad. Online Dangers: Keeping Children and Adolescents Safe, (University of Michigan, USA), 1055.
 Kaveri Subrahmanyam. “The Impact of Home Computer Use on Children’s Activities and Development”, (Journal of Childern and Computer Technology, 10.2(2000)143.