At 10 years old, Annie Burns was targeted online when she met a man on Google+. Although her experience with this man was in the short span of a few months, their interactions left her scarred. After Burns spent hours talking to this man, he convinced her that it was a mutually-beneficial relationship, when in reality he had alternative motives. He often relied on her to emotionally support him and used her for his gain.
Now looking back, Burns said, “I just wish I didn’t talk to people online when I was that young.”
Adolescents should be educated about internet safety, and their actions should be monitored until they can navigate the internet safely. With this happening to hundreds of children worldwide, action must be taken to combat it.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2018, 94% of children ages 3-18 years old had internet access, with 88% of them mainly having computer access at home. With the already high percentage of adolescents having internet access, it has worsened since the Covid-19 pandemic. During the current pandemic, people have resorted to communicating and learning in ways we would not have before the pandemic. Oftentimes, parents allow their children to use their internet-connected devices without time restrictions, seemingly as the only source of entertainment for their child.
Although adults are often quick to sniff out a scam or danger, children cannot do those things as easily. Children are often curious about the world, and when that world is without limits, and easily within their reach, it is easy for a child to be misguided.
With this, the rebellious nature of adolescents, and their abundant knowledge of the internet and technology, it isn’t hard for teens to find themselves in dangerous situations that they may keep private. Social media, group chats, websites, and other forms of digital communication are all often abused for dangerous situations.
Over the years of internet challenges such as the “Kylie Jenner Lip Challenge” or the “Sharpie challenge,” it is only natural that more sinister challenges are bred from these. A majority of “scary” challenges which make their way around the internet are fake, there are still some which target vulnerable adolescents, one of the most infamous being the “Blue Whale Challenge,” supposedly being created in 2013.
This challenge required to comply with a certain set of demands each, many of which were dangerous acts, and to report back to whoever was behind the chats. If this list of demands was not met, the victim was threatened with consequences such as cyberbullying, harassment, stalking, hacking, etc.
Many impressionable children partook in this challenge, and some died. This, of course, was not the end of these challenges. It is evident that challenges such as these, which target adolescents, are bound to keep appearing, which is why the safety and education of adolescents is important.
The effects of dangerous situations a child may find themselves in is infinite. According to the NSPCC, online abuse of adolescents can lead to anxiety, eating disorders, suicidal thoughts, and more. In most cases, a lack of education or acknowledgment from both adolescents and parental figures are present. With this, it is evident that online child abuse could be greatly decreased if educated properly.
As parents often give their children internet access, it can only be assumed that they will thoroughly educate their children about being online. However, this is not always the case. With new chats, platforms, and language, it is no surprise that parents often find themselves out of touch with what their children are doing online. This issue has increased with COVID-19 forcing a majority of adolescents to increase their internet usage.
By presenting the idea of internet safety and what to do in dangerous situations to adolescents as early as possible, it is likely to improve adolescents’ response to dangerous situations. Setting restrictions on websites, explaining how to stay safe online, monitoring your child’s internet activity, and having an open line of communication are all ways to keep your child safe online.
Meryl Alper, an assistant professor in the Department of Communication Studies at Northeastern University, wrote, “Children need to feel confident and comfortable coming to their parents with the problems that they face, including those on the internet.”
When it comes to keeping adolescents safe, the best route of action we can take is education. Teaching youth about the dangers, traps, and behaviors of people we meet online can help youth navigate their online interactions, and help them identify what steps they may need to take if they end up in a dangerous situation.