Protecting children from cyber traps grows as we become more addicted to our technology. Children in particular effortlessly navigate complicated menus, rapidly master the intricate seeming nuances of the latest electronic devices, and nimbly text, tilt, and click away their time happily.
But not all is well in this amazing wonderland. In fact, it has become a dangerous playground filled with risks, dangers, and hazards for the unwary.
Frederick Lane, attorney, forensic computer expert and author of the new book,Cybertraps for the Young, says that the risks of the technologies are many and continue to evolve.
Lane’s book is an eye-opening look at how today’s youth are using and misusing smart phones and the Internet in unforeseen ways and with terrible consequences.
“It goes far beyond simply the time kids spend texting on their cell-phone, playing on Facebook, or watching videos on You Tube. There are more and more cases of electronic harassment and cyber-bullying, illegal downloading and sharing of music, film, and video on peer-to-peer networks, predators in chat rooms, sexting, cheating, plagiarism, defamation, libel and slander, and a variety of internet addictions, the sharing of sensitive personal and financial information, and identify theft, computer fraud and hacking.”
Youth are easily addicted and even become seduced by the digital devices. They are unable to stop checking in on friends, focusing on the latest developments instead of focusing on the real things like sports and homework. The can find quickly and inadvertently themselves communicating with others inappropriately, spending excessive time and money, downloading illegally, or wandering into the seamy, dark and even dangerous places that exist in cyberspace.
The gadgets make it so easy.
Parents have little real knowledge on protecting children from cyber traps or understanding about what their children are doing until it is too late.
Cybertraps for the Young grew out of Lane’s research and work as an expert witness in litigation. It takes the mystery out of the technology and describes the risks drawing on contemporary news reports and legal cases. He also spells out what parents can do to take affirmative action, protect their children and maintain maximum control of their life.
One key for parents to getting control is to ask themselves several simple, straightforward questions before buying a child the latest electronic gadget:
- What kinds of information can the device or software collect or distribute?
- Can it be used to communicate with others, and if so, how?
- How much data does it store, and where?
- Can you child change the device’s capabilities without your knowledge/
- Can you monitor your child’s use of the device, and if so, how?
A huge key practical issue is the monitoring. Short of surgically attaching yourself to you r child, (not generally a good idea), it’s impossible to know everything they’re doing online. How much monitoring is appropriate depends on your child’s maturity, and that of his or her friends, the amount of free time available, whether you’ve noticed or witnessed any disturbing changes in behavior. Fortunately, the forms of communication most likely to be problems can be monitored.
- Your mobile phone company can be asked to provide you with copies of all texts your child has sent or received in the last month.
- With instant messaging, some services allow all messages to be recorded electronically.
- There is an ever increasing variety of third party software available that can monitor, record, and capture online activity and send updates to your mailbox.
“There is such a thing as too much sharing,” lane says. “The answer to avoiding cybertraps is to train yourself and your children to remain in control of your information, time, your attention, and how you manage communications”.
His book, is filled with tactical advice and proven strategies for protecting children from cyber traps and the hazards presented by technology.
Here are some of the valuable recommendations he provides:
• Don’t stop educating yourself. Keeping pace with the changes is a serious challenge but it is one that can be achieved by staying aware of what’s available, by investing a small amount of time, by asking the right questions, and learning what it takes to steer children past the cybertraps. Talk to your child, visit a few key websites, do some online searches and educate yourself.
• Learn and understand the impact of technology on your child. Be aware of how much time your child spends with the technology and what he or she is doing with the technology. Be the one to decide when it’s time for the child to take a break make sure the break occurs. Make sure you understand that the time a child spends texting is usually in addition to TV time. Be aware of how much time is spent on the phone.
• Don’t let computers and technology out of ‘common spaces’. The location of the family home computer should not be in the child’s bedroom. It should be where everyone can use it and see what it is being used for. Even if you give your child a computer, make sure you retain super-user administrative access to the entire machine. Do not allow for electronic privacy. Make sure the child knows, understands and accepts that you have the right and the expectation to see anything and everything on the computer at any time. .Understand that there is no pleasant resolution to a conflict of wills. You must monitor and be able to assure yourself that your child is not doing inappropriate or illegal things online.
• Install surveillance software and conduct frequent inspections. At the end of the day, children and children and parents are parents, the children must fully understand the consequences of abusing the rights that will be fully granted to them when they become adults. Parents must be just as careful with technology as they are careful about giving children knives, letting them ride bicycles, or drive automobiles. A smart phone or a laptop computer can become a dangerous instrument in the hands of an immature or misbehaving child. Surveillance of a child’s use of electronic devices in a parent’s responsibility. Taking appropriate action for misconduct is the best course of action a parent can take.
• Focus on what they do, not how they do it. It doesn’t really matter whether a child is a cyber bully by means of a laptop, a cell phone or an xBox 360 console, or instant messaging. The issue is not the technology, it is the behavior and use that gets the kids into trouble. The main objective is to teach and educate children about the appropriate use and the boundaries and rules of behavior. Some rules and lessons are not very complicated-don’t take pictures of people without their permission, or don’t be mean to friends or classmates, or don’t take or spread personal or embarrassing information. But others are much more complicated and require more structured education and guidance: intellectual property theft, identify theft, computer hacking, online purchases, sexting and sextortion. The basic approach is to work with your child to create a household code of conduct that can evolve and grow as your child matures and technology continues to improve.
• Get full access, passwords and full friend status. You must be able to actually see what your child is posting online. Condition the use of the technology with open acceptance and agreement for full access at any and at all times. If you encounter resistance, then be prepared to deny your child the privilege of using the electronic devices. Realize that of course, the period of greatest resistance, middle school through high school, coincides with the period when children are at the greatest risk of falling into one or more of the cybertraps.
The bottom line is that children need to understand the specific cybertraps that exist and how to avoid falling into them. Remember that supervising is not stalking children it is protecting children from cyber traps. Be the one friend that they can trust. Open up channels to communicate with other important people in the community. Network with friends, other parents, teachers and the administrators in school district. Learn the policies and laws in your area. Your child may not like it, but have a down to earth heart to heart conversation with them and set appropriate limits on the use of electronic devices. Make your boundaries and enforce them.
Frederick S. Lane is an attorney, expert witness, and professional speaker on the legal and cultural implications of emerging technology and protecting children from cyber traps.