Technology Tuesday: Why Internet Safety Is a Challenge, and Why There’s Hope

We wanted to welcome back one of our favorite resources for educating families and keeping kids safe, Affinity Technology Partners.  We are excited that they will be doing a four-part Technology Tuesday series for us over the next few weeks.

By Sean Wright, Founder & President of Affinity Technology Partners

Real Dangers

The internet is a mixed bag, as we all know. We enjoy the convenience and new experiences it offers us. But we also all have a vague sense that there’s a “bad” side of the internet—a side we don’t want children to experience. We’ve heard stories of horrible cases of cyberbullying, which at the very least can be crushing to self-esteem. We hear stories of “sexting” among younger and younger teens. And we know pornography is all too easy to find. But while we’re aware of the dangers, it can be tempting to think that none of this applies to your child.

The statistics, unfortunately, are grim. 90 percent of children aged 8 to 18 have seen pornography online. And a good number of them weren’t even looking for it: 70 percent of children aged 7 to 18 have stumbled onto pornography accidentally.

Over half (52 percent) of children report having experienced cyberbullying to some degree. 39 percent of children have engaged in some form of sexually explicit messaging, or “sexting.” And 70 percent of teens admit to hiding online content from their parents.

Why Internet Safety is a Challenge

The proliferation of the ways children can access the internet makes the job of protecting them complicated. Many schools now provide students with individual laptop computers. Most children have access to smartphones or tablets. And separate entertainment devices (Apple TV, Roku, Google Chromecast, Xbox, etc.) also provide a way for children to find undesirable content. It takes diligence and technical know-how to wrangle all these devices and make sure they’re safe for children to use.

This problem is further compounded by the increased mobility of connected devices. Smartphones and tablets access the internet both over Wi-Fi networks and data plans, making it more difficult to regulate access. Plus, the numerous apps that children can use to communicate and access content are difficult to control due to the limitations of mobile operating systems.

All of this means that, while the risks to kids and teens online have become much greater, protecting them has become much harder.

Hope for Parents: An Internet Safety Plan

The traditional approach to protecting children online—which involved buying content filtering software and installing it on the family computer—is no longer viable in and of itself, if it ever was in the first place. Content filters, while helpful and downright necessary for preventing exposure to explicit content, were never foolproof, and probably never will be. There’s also no one content filtering product that can possibly apply to all of the devices and apps that children use to communicate and access the internet.

But we won’t leave you without hope. While there is no off-the-shelf product that will protect children from all inappropriate content and all dangerous interactions enabled by technology, it is possible to create a holistic internet safety plan that incorporates useful technical safeguards (such as modern content filters) and tools aimed at fostering healthy parent-child conversations about online behavior (such as monitoring and accountability solutions). These plans, of course, require parents to be involved in their children’s lives—but what component of good parenting doesn’t?

They also require parents to be willing to put forth effort to select the right technical safeguards and consistently monitor them. This may seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. Over the next few weeks on Raising Boys and Girls, we will detail the considerations that should go into selecting the right kinds of technology to protect your children. For now, though, know that with a commitment to involvement in your child’s life and the right technical tools, it is possible to put healthy boundaries and safety nets in place to protect your child.

Have questions? Don’t hesitate to reach out to the Affinity team, or comment below!

Sean Wright is Founder and President of Affinity Technology Partners, a company devoted to making technology a force for good in households throughout Greater Nashville. Sean has put his passion for technology to use by helping families and businesses adapt technology to their needs for over 14 years.