Risks for children and adolescents online

Eder Pessalacia is a specialist in IT infrastructure, digital transformation and has the CEH certification, Certified Ethical Hacker.

Risks for children and adolescents online. By Eder Pessalacia.

Our children are always connected to the Internet, playing games, talking with friends and watching videos. As parents, we think they spend a lot of time on Facebook or Netflix. However, they are also attending places much less known to adults. Ask your kids about Discord, Amino, Twitch, GroupMe, IMVU, Bigo, Tik Tok, BitLife, Holla, Kik. You are likely to be surprised by the answer.

First, we have the discomfort of our little ones going to places that we never thought existed. Afterwards, we have no idea what they are doing there. Finally, the isolation requirements during the pandemic increased the time they spend connected.

In this scenario, we have to understand three fundamental characteristics of the Internet: it is free, it has everything, and it never forgets. From a positive perspective, we have the Internet to freely express ourselves and seek knowledge. However, freedom on the Internet often translates into impunity and the possibility of anonymity for committing crimes. And children and teenagers with access to the Internet have seen it all, because curiosity moves the human.

Living in this environment with little control, they are still subject to abuse. 2019 UNICEF data shows that 37% of young people have experienced virtual bullying. Instituto Ipsos’ 2018 Cyberbullying report places Brazil in second place in virtual bullying with 29% of users. Canada is in the eighth position with 20%.

Digital Education

In this chaotic scenario, it is essential that we educate younger users to the digital world. Digital Education has four pillars: dialog, monitor, not expose, and discernment.

The open and sincere dialogue clarifies the benefits and risks of the network: we gain knowledge and friendships, but not all content is good, and crimes are being committed. And when our children feel uncomfortable or offended, they can and should seek help from the adults in the family.

Frequent monitoring can be done with the help of dialogue and with the support of parental control applications, free or paid. A good app should provide a report of the places visited, block unwanted sites and limit the time of use, according to the child’s age.

Teenagers should limit online exposure, as the Internet never forgets. Here, it is worth teaching them the newspaper headline rule: can the photo or video I am sending appear on the front page of a newspaper? They must understand that a photo sent privately can become public and viral within minutes, with no control over the situation.

Finally, we must exercise discernment of content, always distrusting the quality of information. Instruct young people to use fake news verification sites, such as factscan.ca, factcheck.org, rumors.org and aosfatos.org, to name a few. With discernment, we can confirm whether that incredible news is true or whether it was made with lies or half-truths.

By exercising these pillars of Education for Digital, dialoguing, monitoring, not exposing themselves, and discernment, children and adolescents will be better prepared for the digital life that should be an important part of society for the next decades.

Total screen time (television, games, Internet, cell phones)

AgeDaily screen time
Under 2 yearsNo access
2 to 5 years1 hour
From 5 to 12 (17 *) years2 hours
Teenagers2 to 3 hours

Source: Brazilian Society of Pediatrics and Canadian Screen Time Guidelines. * The Canadian Screen Time Guidelines suggests increasing the screen to 2 hours from the age of 17

Risks of the online world for children and adolescents

PedophilesSexual predators using seduction to commit abuse
ScammersFool the victim to obtain sensitive data and money
SextortionThreaten to reveal intimate videos or photos, demanding money
SextingExchange of intimate content, which can be used in future threats
BullyingThreats and intimidation, known or anonymous with false profiles
GroomingGain confidence to obtain child pornography and entice into prostitution