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How Safe Are Children on the Internet? Internet Safety for Children: Too Little Too Late?

In the ever-constant battle to prevent material widely regarded as unsuitable or dangerous infecting the internet, the Government has proposed a new ‘opt-in’ plan for online pornography.

When people buy a new laptop, mobile or even a broadband service, the idea is that they should be required to choose to receive porn. It is likely to encompass sites which promote all kinds of suicide, self-harm, eating disorders or gambling.

The plan is to protect children and young people, though many think that some adults are equally in need of restricted web access.

There are systems of automatic filters available, but ministers feel that they may lull parents into a false sense of security that children are not watching material they do not approve.

Sexting and Sexploitation

There is little doubt that recent activities like sending explicit sexual images by smartphones has seen a massive increase. Cyber-bullying and trolling has become commonplace, it seems. It is for those reasons that social networking sites are also being targeted for possible restriction.

While these are all sad reflections on the way society has become more direct in forcing youngsters to leave childhood behind and in many cases, suffer abuse, they cannot be tolerated without an attempt to curb them.

A consultation is under way posing three basic choices.;

a) do you want an automatic filter which adults (and tech-savvy teenagers) could turn off?
b) do you want the active option,whereby you choose what material to receive?
c) do you want some sort of mix of the two?

According to reports, the Prime Minister is in favour of the third route, preferring what is known as ‘nudging’ people’s behaviour, rather than legislation for or against it. This is regarded as the more ‘robust’ version.

It follows a report published in 2011 by the government adviser on children’s issues, Reg Bailey. He found increases in both commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood. Ofcom have evidence that 30% of girls aged 14 to 16 have seen explicit images, usually created by friends.

It’s the opens, sharing element of the net that has helped to exacerbate the problem. Clearly, nobody can protect all children in a bubble totally immune from the world and unprepared for its realities in the long run, but it is worth preserving the innocence of childhood as long as practicable, isn’t it?

The Positives

On the other hand, things are not always as bad as they look. On a different angle, a new report by Common Sense Media has just concluded that social media’s impact on teenagers’ social and emotional well-being is actually positive. More youngsters reported positive benefit from using social media than negative when viewing their own digital lives.

Larry Magid writing on SafeKids.com about the study said it ‘debunks the myth about Facebook depression’ as few think that the network site makes them ‘more depressed.’ Almost 30% thought using social networks made them ‘less shy’, with 20% saying it made them more confident.

Magid concluded that the report stood in sharp contrast to ‘some naysayers’ who worry that social networking causes ‘social and emotional distress, depression or social isolation.’

So, it probably depends on which side you are standing. If you have been bullied on line, it’s a bad thing. If you are a parent afraid for your child’s safety, it’s a worry.

Read On:

A New Evil from Sick People Stalks the Net

Loneliness & Isolation: Paradoxes of Today’s Easy Communication

UK Council for Child Internet Safety

SafeKids.com, Larry Magid, 26 June 2012

Help Your Child Enjoy the Internet Safely: Click Clever, Click Safe

Image: Bartmoni