So, what about Online Safety?
To best understand the cyber bullying risks a child or teen can be exposed to with the Internet, it’s important for parents to also understand the electronic, virtual environment and all that comes with it. Otherwise, risks can be easily taken by children without a parent even having an idea how potentially problematic an online relationship or exposure to the wrong information can be to a growing mind.
Most parents understand today that the Internet involves a collection of websites that can be connected to each other through links, which are lines of code that are triggered by a mouse click, allowing a computer to then go to a specific website destination. Each link goes to another website, and pages are constantly linked to each other for greater awareness. Search engines are websites that allow readers with a computer and browser software to make sense of this interconnected jungle, by linking to specific pages that match a given search query typed into the search engine field.
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However, there are other aspects of the Internet that can be just as risky, and parents need to understand the difference and how these resources work.
Online Safety: Social Media
As a general term, social media is a title given to a collection of Internet resources that range from Twitter to networking systems to Facebook to Yelp’s vendor commenting system on businesses. The unique aspect that makes all of these different resources similar is that they each contain an element that allows users to connect with each other and communicate freely, ergo the “social” aspect of the resource.
For children, social media opens them immediately to an exponential audience of both other children and adults. Further, the resources have the potential to allow bullies to reach out and affect victims electronically and even anonymously, causing tremendous mental harm to a child being made fun of. As a result, parents have to get up to speed quickly with what their children are doing on the Internet and social media sites to maintain a level of cyber safety, even when it makes kids upset or frustrated with the monitoring.
Online Safety: Viruses and Trojans
Another risk that kids and teens can expose themselves to without realizing it involves computer viruses and Trojans. The two categories of electronic harm are uniquely different from each other even though they tend to get lumped together in products and advice resources.
Viruses involve a program intentionally written to invade a computer through a data connection, either via a portable storage device or a network connection, and then cause some kind of harm or action. Some viruses simply cause normal computer programs to malfunction, making a computer glitch or completely fail. Other viruses are designed to capture information and send the data back to a predetermined address. Whichever the case, viruses are programs that work on their own in an automated fashion, being triggered by specific computer events such as downloading an infected file or playing a digital movie file.
Trojans work very differently from viruses. Trojan files are programs as well, but they usually have a very specific design intended to enter a computer than then make it accessible by a remote user. Trojans can be used to establish a backdoor entry into a computer system, to override existing security systems, or to control the computer and use it as a pawn within a larger network of activity. One of the most famous effects of a Trojan involves using multiple computers to take down a targeted website without the computers’ users knowing the above is happening. Trojans can invade a computer through email files, downloaded files, clicking on a trap in a website and other means. In most cases the user voluntarily commits some kind of act that allows the Trojan file to be transferred. They are also extremely hard to remove, burying themselves into a computer registry and requiring an entire reinstallation of the operating software at times.
Firewall software and hardware also provide a defense, specifically to intentional intrusion through a network as well as to Trojan files. A firewall prevents unauthorized access to a computer, either coming in or going out of a protected system. Instead of focusing so much on definitions, firewalls tend to focus on entry points, screening data for similarities to acceptable traffic versus unknown traffic. Where traffic is flagged, the entry is barred unless the user makes an exception. Firewalls come in two forms: software or hardware. Hardware involves the use of a specially-designed router that all network cabling must go through. Access is denied through the router unless special permission codes are used by the data. Software firewalls are far more prevalent for consumers, performing in the same fashion but installed on a computer instead. A decent firewall program will provide a good defense against most known Trojan files and intentional access, but it can be circumvented if a child or teen lets an access occur by changing the software controls.
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There is no automated defense for social media. Instead, parents need to decide when their children are old enough to use the Internet without constant monitoring, and then parents need to train their kids to know when something is risky and should be avoided. This is not a perfect approach, but most kids understand their parents are trying to protect them, even if it is annoying. In some cases, having kids delay their exposure to social media as long as possible might be the better path overall, both for their peace of mind and to avoid harmful distractions on the PC.
Parents don’t get a break from protecting their kids, and the Internet is a very real, prevalent environment that kids will naturally adapt to quickly. Those moms and dads who think it will all just take care of itself are often proven wrong. Kids can easily find themselves in a virtual environment well beyond their years. Plus, their natural curiosity can allow problems like viruses and trojans into a computer very quickly. So parents need to educate themselves as much as their kids learn about the Internet to stay up to speed.