It's no secret that the internet can be a dangerous place. While it undoubtedly provides many huge benefits, it also comes with certain risks, especially if you're unaware of how to look out for them.
With the internet growing and social media bigger than ever, many parents are experiencing more anxiety about how to protect their kids from potentially harmful content or dangerous people. How can a parent make sure their kids are safe when almost everything the internet has to offer is just a click away?
University of Calgary Associate Sociology Professor Michael Adorjan explained one of the best things you can do is educate your kids on how the internet works, and what types of things to watch out for. For example, explaining that social media platforms use algorithms to target you can be a big step towards having your kids recognize for themselves when they could potentially be taking in harmful content.
"We need critical media literacy skills for young people in terms of what they see and how they interpret what they're exposed to online, especially when it comes to things like extremist content. Far-right political movements, and misogyny, are areas that often target youth in particular, who, if they lack those critical media skills, can go down that proverbial rabbit hole and think that's the only way to think about these things that they're exposed to," he said.
One solution which parents may think is a good idea are parental control apps, which offer many services like tracking your kid's activity and limiting what they can access. However, Adorjan said relying on apps like this isn't the way to go.
"The technology itself can't be the answer to problems with technology. It has to be more about developing that trust and that dynamic with your child."
While apps that track your child's activity may feel like you are protecting them, Adorjan says this could actually backfire and cause more harm than good. From the parent's perspective, he explained this could be seen as a "tough love" type of teaching, but from the child's perspective this could be seen as a sign that their parents don't trust them, which in turn would lead to less communication.
"Especially for older youth, these surveillance software applications backfire because you have children, especially into their teens, with active awareness about how these things are monitored and whether or not your parents are surveilling you or spying on you, from their perspective."
This doesn't mean you have to be completely disconnected from your kid's internet activity though, as Adorjan stressed the importance of open communication. Through communicating about how to stay safe and what types of things they're seeing online, a parent could still monitor their child's activity while respecting their privacy.
The internet can be a scary place, but it also offers many positive benefits as well, like positive reinforcement of your interests, educational videos on YouTube, and staying in touch with family and friends who you may otherwise not see as much as you would like.
Like many other things, it all comes down to how you use it, and teaching your children at a young age about the internet and building a relationship of trust and open communication could go a long way toward keeping them safe.
Send your news tips, story ideas, pictures, and videos to firstname.lastname@example.org