Internet access is readily available, often fairly anonymous, and offers information that is constantly changing and enticing—all features that make the Internet a source of possible danger and even addiction. Parental involvement is crucial to ensure child and adolescent safety when using this medium.
- Children in America are exposed to many hours of electronic media every day, and most children spend four to five hours each day in front of a screen, watching television, playing video games, or using the Internet.
- About 80% of American households have a computer, and the Internet is available in most of those homes. Many of these children use computers and other devices with Internet access in their bedrooms.
- Even children who do not have Internet access at home have the opportunity to go online at school, the public library, or friends’ homes.
- Seventy-eight percent of teenagers between 13 and 17 years of age reported that they were alone while using the Internet and approximately 1 in 5 teens was the object of unwanted solicitation.
- Increased media use has occurred with the increasing access to mobile devices such as cell phones and tablets: A Kaiser Family Foundation study in 2010(1) found that 66% of 8- to 18-year-olds owned cell phones. Seventy-six percent owned iPods and other MP3 players.(1) Children and adolescents spent more time doing activities such as listening to music, playing games, and watching movies on their cell phones than they did talking.(1)
- The major risks when a child uses the Internet are: exposure to pornographic material, exposure to material that encourages dangerous or illegal activities, including illegal drug use and suicide, exposure to violent or hateful material, exposure to harassment and bullying through emails or chat rooms, sharing of personal and family information, such as financial information, and unwanted solicitation.
PROMOTING STRONG, STABLE FAMILIES
As the FBI says on its website:
“Our children are our nation’s most valuable asset. They represent the bright future of our country and hold our hopes for a better nation. Our children are also the most vulnerable members of society. Protecting our children against the fear of crime and from becoming victims of crime must be a national priority.
Unfortunately, the same advances in computer and telecommunication technology that allow our children to reach out to new sources of knowledge and cultural experiences are also leaving them vulnerable to exploitation and harm by computer-sex offenders.”(2)
Number of Families In Study
At least 34% of children using the Internet regularly are exposed to sexual images.(3)
This exposure occurs through Internet searches, misspelled web addresses, pop-ups, and links within a website.
Many children are embarrassed and frightened by these exposures, but less than 40% of children tell their parents what happened.
Thirty percent of the Internet industry is pornography.(4)
Internet pornography viewing by children and teens is extremely common.
First exposure to pornography comes at an average age of 12 years for boys.
By age 18, 90% of boys and 60% of girls have been exposed to pornography.
Eighty percent of unwanted exposure to pornography occurs in the home and 9% occurs at school.(3)
Pornography use by youth is a risk factor for high-risk sexual behaviors.
Teens who viewed violent sexual material were six times more likely to report sexually aggressive behavior, such as having forced another individual to do something sexual online or in person.(5)
Middle-school boys who viewed pornography were three times more likely to report oral sex and sexual intercourse.(6)
An early age of pornography exposure increases risk for addiction and hard-core pornography use.
Sexual solicitation also occurs via the Internet.
Many of the sexual solicitations are propositions for “cybersex,” a form of fantasy sex in which chat room participants describe sexual activity and may masturbate.
One study found that 70% of the solicitations occurred while the youth were at home and 22% occurred while they were at someone else’s home.
Sixty-five percent of the solicitations involved chat rooms and 24% involved instant messaging.
In 10% of the solicitations, the perpetrator asked the child to meet in person.
Cyberbullying is common and can have serious consequences.
Eighty-five percent of parents reported their teens between 13 and 17 years of age have a social networking account.(7)
More than half of adolescents stated they have been bullied online and more than 25% of adolescents stated they have been bullied repeatedly through the Internet: In the High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey of 2013, 14.8% of high school students stated they had been bullied electronically that year.(8) Other studies stated up to 43% of teens have experienced cyberbullying. Ninety-five percent of adolescents who use social media stated they have witnessed cruel behavior on social sites and frequently see such bullying ignored by others.(9)
Only 10% of teens will tell a parent about cyberbullying.
Studies found a relationship between cyberbullying and suicidal ideation and behavior.
Most parents do not set limits on media use.
Only 30% of teens stated their parents set rules about the amount of time they could watch television.
Thirty-six percent stated there were family rules about using the computer.
However, in families where the parents had set rules regarding media use, the children consumed nearly three hours less media per day than those without rules.(1)
This timing of the conversation is dependent on the age of the child. Ideally, this could become part of a yearly discussion with parents,
This conversation involves the parents of the child.
Ask parents of elementary-aged children and adolescents whether they monitor their children’s Internet use and whether they have Internet filtering software in place. Encourage parents to do the following.
- Install Internet filtering software on Internet-enabled devices (computers, tablets, video consoles, and smart phones).
- Review the parental control settings on their child’s Internet-enabled devices and set parameters for features such as app installation and time limits.
- Establish limits and guidelines for media use.
- Consider implementing an Internet Safety Agreement, as found on Safekids.com (http://www.safekids.com/family-contract-for-online-safety/).
- Discuss safety rules for Internet use.
- Create an Internet contract for teens and tweens
- Discourage use of chat rooms
- Forbid sharing of personal information online
- Review privacy settings on social media sites
- Discuss live-streaming apps and safety/privacy concerns
- Monitor social media sites. Parents should have passwords and access to teens’ and tweens’ sites and emails.
Computers and game consoles should be kept in “public” areas of the home such as the living room, not in bedrooms.
Encourage parents to communicate with the parents of their children’s friends.
Encourage an ongoing dialogue with children and teens about media use.
Encourage parents to be good examples in their limited use of media.
Report any suspicious activity to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at the Cyber Tipline at 1-800-843-5678 (1-800-THE-LOST).
- Also report any questionable activity to the Internet Service Provider, which is mandated to report child pornography and crimes against children to the FBI.
Parents who are unable to complete this assignment should be monitored carefully for their ability to separate and/or differentiate themselves from their child and eventually their ability to appropriately set limits for the child.
- The Kaiser Family Foundation. Daily media use among children and teens up dramatically from five years ago. http://kff.org/disparities-policy/press-release/daily-media-use-among-children-and-teens-up-dramatically-from-five-years-ago/. Accessed September 7, 2015.
- S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation. A parent’s guide to internet safety. https://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/parent-guide/parent-guide. Accessed September 7, 2015.
- Wolak J, Mitchell K, Finkelhor D. Online victimization of youth: five years later. http://www.missingkids.com/en_US/publications/NC167.pdf. Published 2006. Accessed September 7, 2015.
- Yagielowicz S. Report: the internet really is for porn. http://www.xbiz.com/news/146703. Accessed August 4, 2015.
- Ybarra ML, et al. X-rated material and perpetration of sexually aggressive behavior among children and adolescents: is there a link? Aggressive Behav. 2011;37:1-18.
- Brown J, L’Engle K. X-rated: sexual attitudes and behaviors associated with U.S. early adolescents’ exposure to sexually explicit media. Commun Res. 2009;36(1):129-151.
- Colton Joint Unified School District. Cyberbullying. http://www.colton.k12.ca.us/education/components/scrapbook/default.php?sectiondetailid=3497&. Accessed September 9, 2015.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC releases 2013 youth risk behavior survey (yrbs) results. http://www.cdc.gov/Features/YRBS/. Accessed September 9, 2015.
- Pew Research Center. Teens, kindness and cruelty on social network sites. http://www.pewinternet.org/2011/11/09/teens-kindness-and-cruelty-on-social-network-sites/. Accessed September 9, 2015.
- A Parent’s Guide to Internet Safety, an FBI guide available at
- Safe Online Surfing, an interactive FBI website that teaches third- to eighth-graders about Internet safety, https://sos.fbi.gov/
- com, a website that teaches children and parents about Internet safety, http://www.safekids.com (age-specific contracts available)
- Recommended Reading on Internet Safety:
- American College of Pediatricians handout, “Protecting Your Children on the Internet,” http://www.acpeds.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/Internet-Safety-Handout.pdf
- Enough is Enough—Making the Internet Safer for Children and Families, enough.org
- Growing Up Social: Raising Relational Kids in a Screen-Driven World by Gary Chapman and Arlene Pellicane
- Protecting Your Family Online: A Parent’s How-To Guide, free download at http://www.covenanteyes.com/learn-to-protect-your-family-with-this-free-how-to-guide/
- Selfie: A Parent’s Guide to Social Media by Tommy McGregor
- The Digital Invasion: How Technology is Shaping You and Your Relationships by Drs. Archibald Hart and Sylvia Frejd
- Internet Filters and Monitoring Programs
- InternetSafety.com (Safe Eyes)
- ScreenRetriever.com (discount available for ACP members)
- MyMobileWatchdog.com (for mobile phone monitoring)
- Resources on Pornography
- When Your Child is Looking at Porn—A Step-by-Step Guide for Christian Parents, free download at http://www.covenanteyes.com/when-your-child-is-looking-at-porn/
- Somebody’s Daughter: A Journey to Freedom from Pornography, DVD directed by John Evans
- Every Young Man’s Battle: Strategies for Victory in the Real World of Sexual Temptation by Stephen Arterburn
- Matt Fradd: 10 Myths About Pornography, youtube.com
- American College of Pediatricians position statement, “The Impact of Pornography on Children,”https://www.acpeds.org/the-college-speaks/position-statements/the-impact-of-pornography-on-children.