This is the final week of fora in UNICEF Jamaica’s Keep Children Safe campaign, and the focus is online safety. There are many dangers lurking on the internet, including cyberbullying, cyberstalking, sexual predators, pornography and more. As more and more children gain access to the internet, even before they hit the pre-teen years, it is important for parents, guardians, teachers and caring adults to ensure their safety.
Cyberbullying includes sending hateful messages or even death threats to children, spreading lies about them online, making nasty comments on their social networking profiles, or creating a website to bash their looks or reputation. These activities are usually carried out by classmates, and is even worse than typical schoolyard bullying (even though they often go hand-in-hand) as there is no one to intervene.
Such hostilities make it hard for the victims – most often adolescent girls – to function at school, and may lead to depression and even suicide.
Cyberstalking generally involves using electronic communication to harass, disturb, threaten, pursue, intimidate, or follow someone against their will, without their permission and to the detriment (whether it be psychological, emotional or physical) of the victim(s) in question. Children are popular targets for cyberstalkers, and their activities also fall under cyberbullying.
Online sexual predators often use chat rooms and social media sites to connect with potential victims. They are usually adults who solicit children for sexual favours, and social networks, replete with photos and personal information, are the hunting ground of choice these days. These paedophiles tend to take on fake identities as kids or teens – depending on their target, and establish a bond. After a while, they will suggest meeting in person, wherein lies the danger of kidnapping, rape and other physical crimes.
Pornography is also a huge concern for parents, as it is pretty easy for kids curious about sex to find with just a simple Google search. Additionally, there are ads and sites that just pop up.
Another online danger for kids, especially teens, is the damage they can do to their own reputations. Suggestive photos, videos and posts can make them preys for cyberbullies, cyberstalkers and online sexual predators. These and otherwise unsavoury posts can also end up affecting future internship and job opportunities. Many people have lost out on jobs because of something they posted online.