More Parents are Concerned About Sexting, Internet Safety Today

Kids are online at younger ages; learn about how to keep them safe

girl with cell phone
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With more kids having access to cell phones at increasingly younger ages, it's not surprising that the 2015 C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health has found that more adults (both parents and non-parents) see issues like sexting and internet safety as being greater dangers for kids today. The national poll, which measures U.S. adults' views of child health topics each year, found that of the 1,982 adults surveyed, internet safety went up in concern to No.

3 from No. 7 the previous year (2014) for parents. For non-parents, internet safety went to No. 5 from No. 9. As for sexting, the problem ranked as No. 5 among parents, up from No. 8 the year before. Among non-parents, sexting ranked No. 8, up from No. 13 the previous year.

Ranked as a "big problem" by adults in 2015:

Source: C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health
 Parents Non-Parents
3Internet safety5Internet safety
5Sexting8Sexting

 

Ranked as a "big problem" by adults in 2014:

Source: C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health
 Parents Non-Parents
7Internet safety9Internet safety
8Sexting13Sexting

Why We Are Right to Be Worried About Kids and Tech Safety

Various estimates show that younger kids have cell phones, and are texting, going on the internet, and using social media. A national 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation report showed that 66 percent of kids ages 8 to 18 had cell phones, up from 39 percent in 2004.

(These numbers are likely higher today.) And one 2011 study by Elizabeth Englander of Bridgewater State University, in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, found that of 20,766 children in grades 3 to 12 surveyed in Massachusetts, 83 percent of middle schoolers, 39 percent of 5th-graders, and as many as 20 percent of 3rd-graders have mobile devices.

And more than 90 percent of kids were already online by the 3rd grade, usually playing games.

With all that access to tech, it's concerning that kids are reportedly not more regulated. According to the same Kaiser Family Foundation report, "only three in ten young children say they have rules about how much time they can spend watching TV (28 percent), playing video games (30 percent), and 36 percent say it about using the computer."

The Dangers, and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids

When it comes to online dangers and kids, it's important to remember that children and teens are naturally curious (especially about forbidden or restricted content like explicit or violent images or videos), and can be impulsive and attracted to risk. Their pre-frontal cortex--the part of their brain that is linked to reasoning and thinking (the part that makes one stop and think, "Ooh, maybe I shouldn't do that")--isn't yet fully developed.

Cyber bullying is also a bigger issue today, and with increasing numbers of younger kids Instagramming and texting, it becomes a potential problem even among elementary-school children.

Parents need to be aware that kids need to be monitored closely to make sure they are not a victim or a bully in cyberspace.

Even if you think your child is savvy enough to navigate online dangers, go over cell phone and online safety tips and keep a close eye on what he's seeing and doing. Don't assume that your child will be able to be mature and always make the right decision and be safe while online or on the cell phone. And familiarize yourself with internet safety tips all parents should know, such as the warning signs that your child might be communicating with a child predator.

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