Middle school kids usually experience a lot of dramatic changes as they transition from childhood into adolescence. Parents often find this stage fairly trying too. It might seem like middle school kids have a lot more structure and less freedom than children did in previous generations, but access to the Internet gives them a type of freedom that many of their parents never imagined. Learn about the Threats to Internet Safety for Middle School Kids!
These days, kids this age may have a personal computer at home, a smart phone to carry around in their backpack at school, and even a tablet device to take to their friend’s house. Previous generations of parents certainly concerned themselves with their kid’s physical location and safety, but this generation of parents also has to stay aware of how their kids behave when they explore the World Wide Web…
Why Worry About Internet Safety for Middle School?
Do you know where your kids go when they get online? The Internet has a huge potential to make the next generation better educated and in touch with the greater world outside of their local neighborhood, but it can also be a dangerous place.
First, to emphasize the importance of middle school Internet safety, it is important to consider some common characteristics of kids and adolescents in sixth through eighth grade :
- Typically, they are sensitive and desire approval from their peer group.
- Adolescents experience dramatic physical changes and may just start noticing their sexuality.
- Middle school kids begin to challenge authority, and they require less approval from adults.
- They seek more independence.
Of course, every parent knows that it is his or her job to ease kids into a position where they can enjoy more independence. But 11- to 14- year old kids do not possess the experience and mental maturity to make prudent decisions 100 percent of the time. The very normal and common characteristics of kids this age make them vulnerable to online threats.
What are the Main Threats on the Internet for Adolescents? How does it relate to internet safety for middle school?
Despite what many parents may think or even hope, the main threat on the Internet may not be that your adolescent spends too much time playing games or chatting online, and he spends too little time working on his essays or math homework. If you have concerns that your child’s grades have dropped or he looks a bit pale, it might be time to limit Internet time until he finishes homework and gets some fresh air. This is no different than limiting TV time until responsibilities have been taken care of.
In fact, the Internet does not have to be isolating at all. Many parents believe their sons and daughters spend too much time online by themselves and not enough time with their friends. They have been relieved to find that their adolescent children are actually socializing online through a social media site or the chat function provided by many online games.
That is not to suggest that serious threats to Internet safety for middle school kids do not exist. Some of these include:
- Internet Addiction
Online Predators and internet safety for middle school
Parents certainly should concern themselves with online predation. Consider some alarming statistics from a U.S. Department of Justice survey of teen victims of online predation:
- According to reports, one in 25 youths has received an online sexual solicitation where the predator attempted to contact his potential victim offline.
- For teens between 12 and 17, 15 percent have received sexually suggestive text messages.
- The majority of victims of Internet-initiated sex crimes were between 12 and 15 years old.
- Even though 75 percent of victims are girls, 25 percent were boys.
While girls are somewhat more vulnerable, boys are not immune. Additionally, one might assume that many young teens are reluctant to report predation to their parents and other authorities, and it is not far-fetched to assume that more than one in 25 youths have been solicited online. The survey concluded that youth are vulnerable to attacks, and the best way to protect them is to further educate them about the negative impact and dangers of responding to these offers in any way.
Cyberbullies and internet safety for middle school
In the past, you may have heard more about cyberbullies in high school than in intermediate school. But younger teens have increasing access to web-enabled devices, and this problem may be increasing in middle schools too. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, cyberbullying might be the most pervasive online risk for teenagers. The clinical report does say that research has demonstrated that social media sites, virtual worlds, games, and even video website can help tweens and teens develop communication skills.
However, the report cautions that not all of them provide a healthy environment for young people:
- According to a poll cited in the report, 22 percent of teens login to social sites more than 10 times a day.
- More than half of adolescents check in with social media sites at least once a day.
- Cyberbullying, or using a digital forum to pass on untrue, humiliating, and hostile comments about a person, is the biggest risk to young people online.
- Victims can suffer from profound psychological problems, and these might include depression, anxiety, and even attempted suicide.
Online bullies also create problems for themselves and their families. Once caught, they may find themselves in trouble with their schools, and they may even find themselves in legal trouble. Lawsuits have also been filed that attempted to hold parents responsible for the online bullying actions of their kids.
Pediatricians have been advised to work with families to educate them about the benefits and risks of social media engagement by young people.
- Parents should be advised to discuss online risks with their kids.
- Adolescents should understand that appropriate behavior online is not so different than appropriate behavior offline.
- Additionally, young people need to know that they can talk to their parents or school counselors about any disturbing incidents they face online without fear of censure.
Internet Addiction and internet safety for middle school
Technically, Internet addiction describes an impulse control disorder. According to a recent study published in Reuters, 1 in 25 teens had what was described as a problematic Internet use disorder. This study came from a survey done in Connecticut on more than 3,000 teens.
- Girls were more likely to answer the survey questions in such a way that indicated they were bothered by their urgent need to spend time online.
- However, boys were more likely to report that they spent more than 20 hours each week online.
- About 13 percent of girls and 17 percent of boys reported spending more than 20 hours a week on the web.
- Students who did report staying online for several hours a week were more likely to be depressed or get into fights in school. They were also more likely to develop drug or alcohol abuse problems
To be fair, it was not clear from the study if Internet addiction was the source of the kid’s problems or the result of them. It might be fair to conclude that it is a clear indicator that there is a problem that needs to be attended to.
How to Reinforce Internet Safety for Middle School Kids
Middle school Internet safety is not just a social problem. It can also be a psychological and a legal problem. Since many parents feel comfortable using the Internet themselves, they may not really grasp the risks involved for middle school kids who have not developed impulse control and maturity and lack experience.
Just as with offline problems, it can be very easy for parents to assume that their children are doing one thing when their kids have really gotten way ahead of them. Even though many of these problems do occur at home, the prevalence of smart phones, tablet computers, and other handheld devices make this a very mobile problem. In other words, it can be very difficult to supervise kids when they are at a friend’s house or riding the school bus.
Of course, supervision is important. No middle school kid should have their web-enabled devices or website accounts protected against their parent’s frequent checks. In the end, parents have to be responsible for their children’s behavior, so they need a way to check on it.
But most importantly, kids need to be educated. They need to understand online privacy issues. They also need to understand that it is no more OK to speak with strangers online than offline, and that is particularly true if the strangers are adults. Finally, children should understand that it is not OK to be a bully or a victim. They should never engage in bullying behavior.
Despite the best efforts of well-meaning parents, doctors, and educators, problems will happen. Middle school kids need to know that they are safe when they step up to report these problems to an adult.