In these days of fear-based media, the popular press tells us that we are facing danger at every turn: If it’s not terrorism, germs, wars, natural disasters, or the environment, we are constantly being told how unsafe it is for our children to be online; with stories of child abuse, online predators, cyber bullies, Internet stalkers and sex tourism. These cybercrimes are second only to identity theft. The “experts” warn us almost daily of the rash of sexual exploitation facing children and that child protection resources are spread pretty thinly.
But what is actually happening? Has the sexual exploitation of children become the new epidemic of the 21st century? Is the Internet making it easier for children to be harmed and exploited?
Would you let your young child loose in a large city unsupervised? The Internet is no different, as many of the threats that exist in the physical world also exist in the digital one.
Well, the answer is both yes and no.
While the Internet has provided many benefits for mankind, it is also a reflection of our collective global societies, rendered digitally in cyberspace. It has allowed the sharing of information and ideas that is unprecedented in human history; including all aspects of the human condition: from the most brilliant works of art and science to the vilest of content — child pornography.
Child abuse of all kinds has always existed, but it is only during the past few years that because of the Internet and greater awareness of the issues affecting our most vulnerable members of society, those societies around the globe are now openly talking about these problems, and taking steps to better protect our children.
However, make no mistake, online safety is an absolute imperative for parents who wish to protect their children from Internet dangers, including child predators.
Would you let your young child loose in a large city unsupervised? The Internet is no different, as many of the threats that exist in the physical world also exist in the digital one. The Internet is not creating more dangers but it does give children more opportunities to access them and for those dangers to access our children and the internet gives predators a sense of anonymity which makes them bolder in their approaches to gain access to children.
Parents must take an active role in the protection of their children both on- and offline. This holistic approach to child protection takes the computer into consideration and allows parents to take full advantage of reliable parental control software systems. The technology available to protect our children digitally is not the end, however, but merely the beginning. Parents must also supervise what their child is doing online, who they are talking to, and what information they are posting about themselves. ASACP offers guidelines for parents who are committed to protecting a child’s safety: http://www.asacp.org/index.php?content=parental_guidelines.
Creators and distributors of age-restricted content are also doing their part with the near universal use of the RTA (Restricted To Adults) Website Label (www.rtalabel.org). The dedication of these entertainment professionals have allowed child protection software systems to function properly, by indentifying their content as being age-restricted, in a simple, effective and globally recognized way.
The sexual exploitation of children may not be a new phenomenon, but it is a danger that can now reach into our homes, schools and portable Internet-enabled devices. Parents, caregivers and educators must be prepared to deal with this new take on an old problem. There is plenty of good information available on the topic and many tools to help, but the bottom line is that parents need to be as involved in their children’s digital lives as they are in their physical lives.