Internet Safety for Kids:
A Parent’s Guide for the Whole Family
Between TV, internet, cell phones, computers, IPods and Pads, texting, social networks, YouTube, video games, and online gaming, today’s families are constantly connected, and often to more than one device at a time. Because of this, the 21st century has been called “The Multitasking Digital Age”.
Kids nowadays are growing up “connected,” learning to use technology at astonishing rates, and making them “fluent” in the digital language from early on. This way of life–being exposed to technology on a constant basis–is quickly becoming the “norm”. In fact, today’s kids have been given the name “digital natives” because they are exposed to technology almost from birth.
But many parents wonder, “What effect does being a digital native have on a child’s development, relationships, and performance abilities?” Research shows that being constantly plugged in not only impacts social skills, relationship development, and use of children’s time, it also impacts the developing brain. It is clear today’s youth are developing brains that are very different than their parent’s brains, but it’s still not well understood exactly what that means. Is this better? Is it worse? The jury’s still out. All we know for sure is it is definitely different.
The Stats on Kids & Technology
The statistics make clear just how plugged in many kids are, and illustrate some of the dangers kids face through technology and the internet in today’s digital world:
- In 2006, teens spent an average of 6 ½ hours a day plugged in to technology, whereas in 2011, that number almost doubled, to 11 ½ hours a day.
- Technology is a regular part of school now! kids as young as Kindergarten are using Smartboards, IPads, and Computers to complete assignments in the classroom. Older children rely on the internet for research, getting homework assignments, submitting work to teachers, and even accessing textbooks.
- The average age children start using the computer is 3 ½.
- In 2011, 12% of 2-4 year olds and 24% of 5-8 year olds were on the computer every day.
- 44 % of tweens confessed to having watched something online their parents wouldn’t approve of, while only 28% of parents knew about it.
- The average 2-5 year old spends 32 hours per week hooked on the boob tube, and 30% of children 0 to 1, 44% of 2 to 4 , 47% of 5 to 8, and 71% of 8-18 year olds now have TV’s in their bedrooms.
- In 2012, 73% of teens are texting, sending an average of 2,899 texts per month.
- (As of 2011), 34% of teens text while driving; 26% of teens admit to being bullied through texting; 40% of teens admit to sending a “sext,” and 50% admit to receiving one (wanted or unwanted). 15% of sexting photos end up on the internet, and there is a link between sexting and suicide.
- As many as 90% of 12-17 year olds are on a social network (as of 2011).
- 8-12 year olds spend an average of 13 hours per week playing video games, and 13-18 year olds spend 14 hours/week. (And it’s not just the boys!)
- 9% of children are clinically addicted to gaming. Even seemingly “harmless” games can be addicting.
- 70% of kids ages 8-18 have accidentally encountered online pornography, often while doing research for homework (as of 2012).
- Though children/teens are highly likely to accidentally encounter unwanted images and content, many are also searching for it:
- The most frequent search terms for boys under 18 are, in order: YouTube, Google, Facebook, Sex, MySpace, and Porn.
- It’s the same for girls except Taylor Swift takes 5th place and Sex takes 7th.
- And for children 7 and under the top three are the same, with Porn coming in 4th!
Why are these statistics so shocking? Why are children so inundated with technological dangers? Why are young children so commonly being exposed to and even seeking out harmful material?
For one, thanks to Wi-Fi, kids today have worldwide access any time, any place. Children have access to the internet through IPods, cell phones, and console gaming systems, meaning they can literally be “plugged in” 24/7. And even kids who don’t have Wi-Fi access at home can easily find it at a friend’s house or their local fast food joint in no time flat! In most cases, kids are just being curious. However, because children are more plugged in, they are also accidentally getting exposed to inappropriate material more frequently than ever. In fact, in today’s world, it’s more a question of when they’ll come across something explicit or illicit rather than if. And if parents aren’t giving them answers they can trust, then they will seek the answers elsewhere.
What does this mean for my family?
All of this means that the protective measures we parents used to take are no longer good enough. Family internet safety is no longer as simple as putting firewall protection on the family computer and moving it into the kitchen. Choosing not to have internet access available in the home is also no longer the solution, since our children can gain access so easily anywhere else they go. As Psychologist Sue Bergin has stated, the problem is clear: “1) Corrosive content is not the only enemy, 2) Internet filters and computers it the kitchen are not enough, 3) It’s not just boys, and 4) pulling the plug is not an option”.
The Good News
Yes, the problem of internet safety for kids is real. But the good news is there are things we can do to keep our families safe from these dangers:
- Parents today need to be educated on the dangers of technology and how to keep kids and families safe.
- We must become the example to our children of how to set proper boundaries with technology.
- We then must teach our children to become their own monitors so they can protect themselves as they grow older.
- And, we must keep the conversations with our children ongoing and open in order for our children to feel safe coming to us when problems arise.
It takes vigilance, awareness, and persistence, but, parents, we can protect our children, ourselves, and our families from the threats of technology and still enjoy the benefits of technology. Join me here as we explore the problems of internet safety and the solutions that will keep our families safe.
Coming Soon! To the “Family Internet Safety” Series (stay tuned…)
- The Impact of Technology on Kids’ (& Adults’) Brains
- Understanding Internet & Technology Addiction
- What is an “Arousal Template?” and Why We Need to Know About It
- The Effects of “The Multitasking Digital Age” on Kids
- Adults & Technology (Are we setting the example?)
- What Can We Do?: Practical Solutions for Parents, Teens, and Children
- The facts on:
- Social Networks
- Texting/Cell Phones
- Internet & YouTube
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 Sue Bergin, “The Dangerous Digital Vortex,” BYU Alumni Magazine, Winter 2011.
Lewin, T. “Screen Time is Higher Than Ever For Children,” in New York Times, October 25, 2011.
Pew Internet Research Center: Teen Cell Phone Statistics, April 18, 2011.
“Interesting statistics about video games” www.diyfather.com
“Video game statistics.” http://www.grabstats.com,
“Internet Crime & Abuse Statistics” (2012). http://www.guardchild.com/statistics/