We’re all spending more time online these days. Since the pandemic hit in 2020, the digital world has become a portal to communication, collaboration, and entertainment, in a time when we’re often locked away from the real world. Unfortunately, while the internet has a host of benefits to offer, from more accessible interactions between families to endless access to information, it has its dangers too.
The online world is a melting pot of potential threats and an environment that both adults and children can rarely say they understand completely. While it’s easy to introduce children to concepts like stranger danger, and how to stay safe in public situations when we’re around to guide them through the physical world, the same methods don’t apply to the digital space.
Just like the real world, the online landscape is home to various dangers. The only way to keep children and young adults protected, while allowing them to leverage the benefits of the internet, is with a focus on visibility.
The Problem with Navigating Digital Safety
Perhaps the biggest issue with ensuring child safety in a digital world, is parents aren’t always on-hand to help their children make the right choices. Ultimately, your child has a multitude of open doors leading to the internet in today’s society. They can easily browse the web on their smartphones, as well as on the family computer.
Apple’s decision to delay child safety features on US phones means safety features aren’t built into the tools your kids are using. What’s more, the ever-unpredictable nature of the internet means that even if children are using “approved” channels to find information or connect with loved ones, they’re not always safe. 70% of kids encounter violent or sexual content just when doing research for homework, and 17% of 8–12-year-olds receive inappropriate messages on social media, while only 7% of their parents are aware of the issue.
Today’s parents are in a problematic position. Most want to give their children the crucial internet access they need to expand their knowledge, and the privacy they feel is important to teach their kids independence. Yet, providing children with too much freedom can also mean exposing them to a host of online risks. As FamilyKeeper, a leading parental control app with AI-powered insights into child browsing notes, children often need help and guidance to protect against a host of threats, from cyberbullying to online predators.
Common Protections Aren’t Safe Enough
Many companies in the last few years have begun to make improvements to their technology for the explicit purpose of protecting children online. TikTok has a version of its app for users under the age of 13 where they can create videos but not post them. YouTube’s kids app has an approved content-only mode, and Instagram is looking for ways to prevent adults from messaging children who don’t already follow them.
Unfortunately, even these measures have their limitations. There are countless horror stories online of videos on YouTube that have slipped past the filters. Plus, many tools like GetID or YoTi with age verification systems in place are notoriously easy for children to bypass, just by clicking a different button. Studies frequently show that young adults and children of all ages can easily sidestep age verification measures when signing up to websites and social media apps.
It’s also worth noting that many of the measures implemented to protect children today only address a handful of problems. Many of these tools still don’t offer protection against:
- Screen addiction: Tools like Jumio and other age verification systems don’t allow parents to monitor how long a child spends on an app or tool, meaning screen addiction can still be a serious issue. Currently, around 46% of kids aged 12-16 say they’re addicted to their smartphones.
- Cyberbullying: Around 59% of US teens have been harassed or bullied online. While some apps do offer reporting segments and customer support sections for children who feel pressured or bullied by peers, most children will still feel too uncomfortable to use them. Only around 10% of teens speak up.
- Inappropriate interactions: Just as children can lie about being older, predators can often lie about being younger to gain access to other younger users online. 40% of kids in grades 4 to 8 have already connected with a stranger online.
Why Visibility is the Key to Safety
While the concept of digital privacy is important, the safety of your children is more important than allowing them the freedom to use the internet “restriction-free”. Parents need to understand what their children are doing online so they can implement the right protections. Unfortunately, even the most dedicated parent can’t simply watch over their child’s shoulder at all times of the day.
True visibility requires access to the right tools for safely tracking the online activities of children. FamilyKeeper, a ReasonLabs company, for instance, uses AI technology to alert parents to worrisome behavior patterns, encounters with predators, dangerous activities on social networks, and signs of cyberbullying. At the same time, it doesn’t rely on parents to consistently monitor their child’s online activity.
To protect children in this rapidly-evolving digital landscape, parents need to be able to understand what their kids are really doing online, and how certain activities put them at risk. It’s only with visibility tools that parents can keep a closer eye on worrisome behavior patterns as they develop, and help parents move their children away from dangerous behaviors, like lying about their age online, or speaking to dangerous people.
While changes in social media platform policies and technology enhancements might help to make the internet a safer place for kids, they’re no substitute for the guiding hand of an informed parent, with a clear view of their child’s activity.
To address today’s digital risks, parents need holistic visibility.