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The development of technologies and digitalization of the world contributed to the increased availability of data and the spread of the Internet. Today, millions of users globally have access to any information and can communicate and cooperate with various people. However, along with the multiple benefits it provides, a nagging problem should be mentioned. The fact is that children are one of the most vulnerable groups that can be affected by individuals with various purposes (Shin & Lwin, 2017). The limitless and uncontrolled access to the Internet increases the risks of being harassed, offered with inappropriate content, or sexually exploited (Livingstone et al., 2018).
The statistics show that 94% of 3-to 18-years old have access to the Internet at home, with almost no control over their actions (Internet statistics,” n.d.). It becomes a significant threat to children’s well-being. Under these conditions, society needs a solution that can protect this cohort from all hazards linked to society’s digitalization. Internet activity of children to 18 years should be limited and monitored as its use without any supervision opens this group to potential risks of being harassed, abused, or sexually exploited, which can damage their development and well-being and trigger the emergence of multiple adverse effects.
Harassment is one of the most common problems associated with the use of the Internet by children. Statistics show that most teens have this negative experience, as about 59% report they have been bullied online (“Cyberbullying statistics” n.d.). Moreover, 71% of children say that they know and are worried about cyberbullying as it becomes a nagging problem that affects their communication in social networks (“Cyberbullying statistics” n.d.). Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram are the most popular websites used by adolescents; however, they might be used by individuals to damage other people (“Cyberbullying statistics” n.d.).
Under these conditions, harassment on the Internet becomes one of the major problems of this group, and researchers observe the tendency towards the increase in its rates (Livingstone et al., 2018). The numbers prove that limitless access to social media and other platforms increases the risks of experiencing aggressive or violent behaviors or suffer from adverse effects associated with various forms of harassment.
The limitless access to the Internet of children without supervision also significantly increases the risks of being abused. Adolescents might suffer from physical, psychological, or sexual abuse during their interactions on the Internet. For instance, teenagers often use threats or aggressive talks in their communication with peers, and it might precondition the emergence of problems in real life when opponents decide to meet (Shin & Lwin, 2017).
Statistics show the increase in the number of fights and traumas linked to Internet debates or conflicts (Shin & Lwin, 2017). In such a way, along with the harassment, which can be viewed as a form of emotional abuse, children become more exposed to other types and face a higher risk of adverse effects and complications. It means the Internet becomes a potentially dangerous environment, especially if all interactions of a child remain uncontrolled and he/she has little understanding of how to act in various situations presupposing abuse or violent actions aimed against him/her.
The outstanding growth in the rates of child sexual exploitation and abuse associated with the Internet is another evidence proving the necessity of controlling access to it. The relevant statistics show that 70% of children 7-to 18 years have accidentally encountered pornography, 86% of girls conducted online chats not informing their parents, 41% of all unwanted sexual socialization or communication occurred on the Internet (“Internet statistics,” n.d.). Moreover, 22% of teenage girls posted their nude photos or videos online (“Internet statistics,” n.d.). The given numbers prove the scope of the problem and signalize the need for some actions.
At the same time, the Internet is widely used by malefactors to find children who can be sexually exploited or involved in pornography. About 116,000 child pornography requests are made every day on the Internet, meaning a growing demand for such content (Katz et al., 2018). Under these conditions, cybercriminals can use this opportunity to find potential victims and exploit them to generate revenues (Katz et al., 2018). The availability of web cameras creates new risks as teenagers, mostly girls, can be invited to live streams presupposing sexual content (Katz et al., 2018). It means that parental control acquires the top priority as the method to minimize risks.
Another problem is that most children chat without any supervision, and the content of such messages can be potentially dangerous. In many cases, malefactors start communicating with teens using false information about their age or status to ask them for a date (Katz et al., 2018). It becomes a serious threat to children’s security as such meetings might involve sexual actions and abuse. Child sex trafficking can also be linked to the Internet as it provides criminals with multiple opportunities to plan their activities, find victims, and affect them (Katz et al., 2018). For this reason, the necessity to introduce appropriate monitoring tools becomes evident.
Harm to Development
The need to limit access to the Internet is also evidenced by the harm done to child development and well-being. Today, 68% of all children who have mental problems also report being harassed on the Internet (“Cyberbullying statistics” n.d.). Moreover, the problematic communication with peers in social networks might give rise to problems with socialization (López de Ayala López et al., 2015). A child might avoid people, become lonely and isolated, which causes critical damage to adolescents as acquiring appropriate social skills and experiences is a key for their further successful interaction and career-building (López de Ayala López et al., 2015).
Children who have experienced sexual harassment might acquire psychological problems that demand visiting a psychologist to ensure that they do not suffer from severe consequences. Finally, social media can play a crucial role in increasing suicide rates among the youth (López de Ayala López et al., 2015). Social comparison, low self-esteem, and poor-body image might precondition the emergence of critical mental problems and the decision to commit suicide (López de Ayala López et al., 2015). Under these conditions, the Internet’s use monitoring becomes fundamental for avoiding such risks.
Limited Access and Monitoring of Internet Activities
Considering all risks mentioned above, limiting and monitoring the Internet activity of children under 18 becomes a potent tool to manage potential threats and protect children from being damaged. The recent research shows that parental involvement and discussion of all possible threats with children reduces the risk of negative outcomes by 35% (Shin & Lwin, 2017). It means that trust relations presupposing sharing between family members are central for mitigating the high risk of using the Internet (Shin & Lwin, 2017). Additionally, the growth in the number of cybercrimes aimed at children cultivated the risk of programs blocking harmful content (Katz et al., 2018).
They can be used for establishing an effective parenting control and helping to limit access to sites that might contain pornography, violent content, or other inappropriate information. Combination of various tools by parents and cooperation with their children can become a potent solution to the problem as it will help to reduce the number of accidents in the future.
Debates on the Effectiveness of Limits
However, an opposing view to the problem exists, stating that limited access to the Internet cannot be viewed as a solution to the problem of growing child abuse and harassment rates. The main argument offered by this group is that software and attempts to control children are not effective, and they can still explore multiple opportunities to view inappropriate content or communicate with strangers for various purposes (Shin & Lwin, 2017).
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Moreover, the attempts to limit a child might deteriorate the quality of relations with parents and precondition the growth of conflict between family members (Shin & Lwin, 2017). Under these conditions, the problem can be resolved by specific agencies responsible for monitoring the content of websites, cases of abuse, and cybercrime (Shin & Lwin, 2017). Parents should also play an important role; however, it is limited to communicating with a child to explain the possible risks and threats associated with interacting on the Internet.
Nevertheless, the given position can be refuted by using relevant statistics. Research shows that better parental involvement and attempts to monitor the activity of a child reduce the risk of being harassed or abused by 50% (Shin & Lwin, 2017).
It means that adults remain critically important stakeholders who can contribute to the improvement of the situation. Accepting the idea that children might resist the attempts to control their activities on the Internet or limit them, it is also possible to state that communication might be a key to resolving this conflict. Parents should be ready to explain the major causes of their actions and the necessity of being careful when using the Internet for various purposes. Only under these conditions, it is possible to create a safe environment and guarantee that a child will benefit from access to information that will not cause harm to him/her.
Altogether, the Internet is one of the most influential technologies affecting the modern world and providing multiple benefits to people. However, along with numerous advantages, the availability of information can be viewed as a serious threat to well-being. Children, as one of the riskiest groups, might suffer from limitless access to various websites or social media. The possible dangers include harassment, abuse, sexual exploitation, and the development of adverse effects influencing their health due to these factors. The statistics evidence a dramatic increase in rates of cybercrimes committed against children. Moreover, they are often sexually exploited or provided with pornography and other inappropriate content.
The possible solutions to the problem are parental involvement and monitoring. Internet activity of children to 18 years should be limited. The facts mentioned above show that its use without any supervision opens this group to potential risks of being harassed, abused, or sexually exploited, which can damage their development and well-being and trigger the emergence of multiple adverse effects. Regardless of some opposite opinions disputing the effectiveness of this measure, it remains the most practical and potent tool aimed at minimizing the number of harassment cases and protecting children from negative influences.
Cyberbullying statistics. (n.d.). Web.
Internet statistics. (n.d.). Web.
Katz, C., Piller, S., Glucklich, T., & Matty, D. E. (2018). “Stop waking the dead”: Internet child sexual abuse and perspectives on its disclosure. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. Web.
Livingstone, S., Mascheroni, G., & Staksrud, E. (2018). European research on children’s internet use: Assessing the past and anticipating the future. New Media & Society, 20(3), 1103–1122. Web.
López de Ayala López, M. C., Sendín Gutierrez, J. C., & García Jiménez, A. (2015). Problematic Internet use among Spanish adolescents: The predictive role of Internet preference and family relationships. European Journal of Communication, 30(4), 470–485. Web.
Shin, W., & Lwin, M. O. (2017). How does “talking about the Internet with others” affect teenagers’ experience of online risks? The role of active mediation by parents, peers, and school teachers. New Media & Society, 19(7), 1109–1126. Web.