New technologies are an irreplaceable aid in learning and help develop interests. However, young users face many threats. How to protect the youngest from them and teach them to use the Internet wisely? The basis is a conversation between the parent and the child, who should introduce the child to the virtual world and tell him or her about the threats and opportunities that the Internet offers. Thanks to it, they can expand their knowledge and learn languages - all to develop their full potential.
According to the NASK “Teens 3.0” study from 2021, young people spend an average of 4 hours on the Internet during their free time from school. and 50 minutes a day, and on weekends – 6 hours and 10 minutes. According to the report “Health and lifestyle of Polish students” published in 2019 by the Institute of Mother and Child, over half of primary school students spend at least two hours a day watching videos on their phones, and over 60 percent spends this time playing games or other activities using electronic portable devices. Doctors, psychologists, psychotherapists and educators warn that unlimited access to technology may have a negative impact on a child’s psychosocial and physical development.
Addiction to the Internet and new technologies is becoming a growing problem. There is even a term for a person addicted to a smartphone – a smombie, a modern zombie.
The greatest tendency to escape into virtual reality is shown by shy children who have difficulty establishing relationships with peers and who experience alienation or rejection by colleagues. This group also includes students who have learning difficulties, which do not have to result from their intellectual limitations, but, for example, from a lack of attention from their parents, a bad atmosphere at home or difficult relationships with siblings. Of course, any user can become addicted to games, instant messaging, watching movies and other online activities.
A new form of violence
Unfortunately, the widespread phenomenon of hate on the Internet also affects children, especially – but not only – teenagers. Using the Internet, instant messaging and social media to ridicule, harass, intimidate and persecute other people is the so-called cyberbullying. Young people whose emotional development has not yet been completed usually do not realize the consequences of their behavior. The apparent anonymity and numerical superiority of harassers over their victims further emboldens them to engage in unacceptable behavior.
It is worth knowing that this type of behavior may result in legal consequences under the Penal Code. A relatively new threat, particularly affecting teenagers, is sexting, i.e. sending sexually suggestive photos, videos and texts via the Internet or mobile network. According to the study “Sexting among Polish youth” commissioned by the Nobody’s Children foundation, over one third of teenagers received this type of messages from their peers.
Adolescents eagerly discuss topics related to intimacy and eroticism and share half-naked or nude photos, forgetting that such content, even if addressed to a narrow audience (e.g. a boyfriend or friend), can easily be made public. The consequences can be very serious – a strong sense of shame in the person to whom such materials concern, but also harassment from peers, can lead to a mental crisis and sometimes to an attempt to take one’s own life.
If, as a parent, you need support in this area, remember that you can use the support offered by the helpline: 800 100 100.
This is free and anonymous telephone and online assistance for parents/guardians and teachers who need support and information in the field of counteracting violence, as well as psychological assistance for children experiencing problems and difficulties, such as: aggression and violence at school, cyberbullying and threats related to new technologies, sexual abuse, contact with psychoactive substances, depression and low mood, suicidal thoughts, eating disorders. The line is open from Monday to Friday from 12.00 to 15.00. More information at https://800100100.pl/
It is worth emphasizing that the awareness of these threats means that many institutions, including the NASK Expert Team, acting as a contact point for reporting illegal content on the Internet, especially related to sexual exploitation of children, function to eliminate such situations and ensure the safety of users. . More information can be found at dyzurnet.pl.
Protect against threats
Navigating the virtual world, even with the most innocent intentions, also carries the risk of encountering people who will want to take advantage of the child’s gullibility or harm him. Criminals know exactly how to reach the community they care about. Due to lack of experience and naivety related to young age, a young person may, for example, fall victim to fraud, unknowingly providing strangers with data that could be used to steal money from their parents’ account.
However, the greatest threat is the so-called child grooming, i.e. seducing a child via the Internet; The Internet is the easiest way for these types of criminals to reach their victims. Impersonating a child’s peer, gaining his trust, causing him to do something that his parents would not accept – e.g. sending a photo of himself in a negligee to a “friend” – and then blackmailing the victim, which forces him to submit to the criminal, is the most common ways of behaving by pedophiles.
Aware of these threats, parents must make their children aware of them as early as possible, establishing rules for using the Internet and patterns of behavior in specific, potentially dangerous situations. First of all, a child should know that there is nothing that he or she cannot tell his or her parents. In addition, there are applications and programs that facilitate the so-called parental control, the most important thing is to devote time to your child and supervise his or her activities online.
Teach your child this:
Think before sending intimate materials.
Don’t give in to the trend of presenting nudity on the Internet – the fashion will pass, photos and videos will remain forever.
Do not send materials that you would be ashamed to show to your parents and friends.
Secure and limit access to private photos and videos – configure and update privacy settings on social networking sites. Don’t share your account login or password.
If you log in on a device other than your own, remember to log out after your session.
Report situations that concern you to adults.
If someone forces you to do something you don’t want to do, something that is dangerous for you, you have the right to say “no”.
What to do if intimate materials leak out?
Report the matter to the administrator of the website where the materials are located.
Configure privacy settings and limit access to private information.
Limit your visibility on social media.
Report the matter to the police – if the person depicted in intimate materials is a minor, these are materials depicting sexual abuse of a child.
Consider exercising your right to be forgotten – after completing the appropriate form, specific links may be removed from search results.
For the sake of your eyesight
September is a good time to take your child to an ophthalmologist, especially if you notice behaviors such as squinting while looking into the distance, habitual head tilting, confusing letters and difficulties in reading and writing. During the school year, the sense of sight in children and adolescents is constantly overloaded.
Our eyes were “designed” primarily to look into the distance, i.e. at a distance exceeding 10 meters. Since the student spends most of his time indoors – in the classroom, during extracurricular activities and at the desk while doing homework, and therefore focuses his eyes on objects located at a distance of no more than 10 meters, the accommodation system responsible for focusing the eye does not have a chance to rest.
Such long-term overloads may lead to accommodative contracture characterized by deterioration of visual acuity, as well as the development of visual defects, e.g. myopia. This is one of the reasons why it is so important that a child spends their free time from studying in an open space, and not in front of a computer or smartphone screen.
Blue light itself, naturally emitted by the sun, is not harmful and regulates our daily rhythm. Too much blue light, especially that emitted in the evening, is harmful. When the organ of vision absorbs a lot of blue light, it sends information to the pineal gland – a gland in the brain responsible for, among others, for the production of melatonin – to stop its production, because it is daytime and the body is supposed to be active. When less light reaches the eyes, the pineal gland receives information to start producing melatonin and prepare the body for sleep.
Since modern electronic devices with high-resolution screens emit a lot of blue light, disturbing the production of melatonin, it is extremely important to follow sleep hygiene, and if a child spends a lot of time in front of device screens, equip them with screens that protect their eyesight against excessive light emission.
The beginning of the school year is the perfect time to establish rules for using the Internet. Remember that you should establish these conditions together with your child. Discuss them one by one and think about what they involve. Also make sure your child understands them and explain why you decide on certain restrictions.
Don’t panic, use it consciously
An important element of protection is building awareness of the existence of such threats or even frauds that may affect children. Knowledge on this subject can be obtained, for example, from the CERT Polska website, where experts in an accessible way discuss, for example, the issue of cheating on the Discord platform, which is very popular among the youngest.
As with everything, the key is to keep a distance and be aware of what is good and what is bad online. The Internet has become an integral part of our lives, but it is also the reality of children. And it can bring a lot of good. You should not be overly afraid of it, you should teach your child how to use it safely. Support in this regard is provided by places, people and institutions that help you find your way in this new reality.
Teach your child, but also yourself, that the Internet can be a space that you will discover together. Remember not to be a passive user. If anything in the received message or on the page suggested for opening raises your doubts, ignore the instructions or request in the received message and instead report it at incident.cert.pl. CERT Polska operates within NASK structures. This is an incident response team, in other words, a team of specialists combating threats on the Internet. On the cert.pl website you will find information about phishing campaigns and fake SMS campaigns, as well as a list of warnings against dangerous websites.
In addition to establishing clear rules and time frames related to the use of electronic devices, it is worth taking a closer look at the child’s behavior. If he needs to use the phone or computer more and more often and negotiates an extension of the time of use or uses it stealthily, breaking the prohibition, and when this opportunity is taken away, he becomes agitated, restless, angry, or, conversely, becomes apathetic, it may be a symptom of addiction. In this situation, consultation with a specialist may be advisable, but the key is to talk to the child and offer him an alternative option for spending time. Let’s also remember that we can act on the Internet together with our child – let’s discover the world, space, develop our passions. It is access to the Internet that makes all this at your fingertips.
The full educational offer on the safety of children and adolescents on the Internet, along with advice, research results and multimedia materials, can be found at www.cyberprofilaktyka.pl and www.saferinternet.pl.