Digital dangers of our Technological Age

by Helen van Huyssteen-Bosman

Almost 93% of kids, ages 12-17, are online, and most exhibit a level of digital proficiency bewildering to those of us who want to protect them.

Kids are feeling pressured to post provocative pictures, videos, and blog about their deepest personal experiences in a very public forum. Gone are the days when a child's home was a refuge from playground or neighbourhood bullies. The Internet and other mobile devices have become the new playground! Technological proficient students are turning to cyberspace to harass their peers using a new method of bullying---cyber bullying! Victimization on the Internet has taken on frightening dimensions through cyber bullying, while these electronic bullies can remain" virtually "anonymous!  Cyber bullying wilfully and repeatedly causes harm through harassment, threats and humiliation is inflicted upon the victim through interactive technologies or mobile phones.

Without guidance from parents and educators, few are thinking through the implications of their online actions. To make matters worse, many of the legal measures we need to protect kids on our" virtual streets" are unenforced or non-existent.

Significant gaps exist between the Internet’s dangers to children and the level of legal, enforcement-based, and industry-driven action dedicated to protecting children. In this ever-changing world, parents must stand in the gap and be the ‘first line of defence’ against child Internet victimization.  The digital language of computers, video games, and the Internet, are very able to develop digital proficiency. Parents are often left feeling sophisticated and many parents have not been overwhelmed, uninformed, or ill-equipped to adequately protect their kids online.

Over the past fifteen years, a number of dynamic, powerful, and destructive elements have come together, creating a “perfect storm” scenario for our children to fall victim to exploitation in the digital age. For the first time, sexual predators can communicate with unparalleled and anonymous access with our children, violating the safe walls of our homes, without our knowledge.

The Internet has also become the leading technology for distributing hard-core pornography, grossing $13 billion annually. Internet child pornography is a $3 billion per-year industry, and sadly, this horrific abuse represents one of the fastest growing businesses online. Everyone—including your child—is potentially one click away from having a virtual sexual interaction or being exposed to material once only available on the black market.

In the "online world”, social networking sites have also become the predominant forum of communication for kids to present themselves, seek approval and describe their interests. In the visual and audio-clutter of these networking pages, teens place everything that is in their heads and hearts that they want people to know about. Their appeal rest in the access to real-time and asynchronous communication features; blogging tools; photo-music;  video-sharing features and the ability to post immediate, original creative work-----all linked to a unique profile that can be customized and updated instantly.

Defending children against Internet and cyber-dangers including all modes of technological communication modes seems like an overwhelming task!

As parents and educators our goal should be to educate, equip and empower ourselves in making a firm commitment to familiarise ourselves with the technology surrounding our kids daily, in order that we may become enlightened and informed as to the clear and present dangers of the uninhibited access and use of these systems and devices on their