After my (still in progress) experiences as an au pair/nanny/babysitter and general experiences as a digital native, I thought I would share my thoughts on this topic, as I have had to deal with some interesting incidents myself and know of many others who have had to face unexpected situations. I've also recently been watching the Netflix series Black Mirror, which I highly recommend to adults who are not faint-of-heart! It is a fictional series, which shows potential negative things which could arise from technology which currently exists/may exist in the future. Some of the episodes are extremely thought-provoking.
New technology and devices are everywhere now. These things can be very useful from an educational point of view, and can offer some relaxed fun and a bit of relief for tired parents! However, it is important for adults and children to be aware of the risks that are out there, and for each person who is responsible for children to consider how they might personally deal with these challenges. Free communication and (age-appropriate) honesty are always essential.
Note: Some online behavior IS illegal. Keep up to date on what is and isn't legal, push for better laws when you see a need, and report incidents to hosts (Facebook, etc) or even the police where necessary.
Problem: YouTube is great for children's songs and stories, educational videos, language learning, and many other things. There is, however, a dark side. The algorithms found on YouTube have meant that some nasty people have used keywords and images related to child-oriented things so that children (and adults with certain interests or fetishes) will find them. Children then come across these videos using the "up next" sidebar, and can end up seeing something completely inappropriate for most adults, let alone a child. Writer and artist James Bridle recently did a TEDtalk on this and other problems related to YouTube, such as using child psychology to gain views (and therefore advertising revenue) on their videos.
Solution: Do not leave children alone on YouTube. Watch with them, and make it a shared activity! You can also make use of YouTube Kids, where videos are carefully curated for children. There are also a whole lot of parental controls you can make use of.
Problem: With a camera, you can create lasting memories of things you see and experience. However, children are naturally curious, especially about their bodies and the bodies of other people. They may decide to take photos or videos which may be innocent in nature, but can pose risks if the wrong people come across them.
Solution: Supervised use of cameras is ideal. If the child does have free use of a camera device, it is important to teach them how to use it safely. Different parents have different thoughts on appropriate use, but they should discuss the issue with their children. I think a good way of approaching it is that until they reach a certain age where they are aware of the risks and consequences, they should not use devices with photo storage abilities to take private photos of bodies, at all. If a child is found to be taking photos/videos of a risqué nature, these should be deleted immediately to remove the risk of others coming across the images/footage. Children should also be taught to not take photos of other people without permission; with the popularity of things like drones now, this is probably going to become a bigger issue.
Problem: People differ on what they think about pornography as a general thing, but for children, it can cause serious issues. The average age for a child to stumble upon pornography last I heard was 8 years old. Yes, you read that correctly. 8 years old! Even just stumbling upon it at that age can cause mental scarring, depending on the child and what kind of porn it is. It can also cause an unhealthy curiosity or obsession to develop, even to the point of addiction. This can then lead to major problems in their future relationships and sex lives.
Solution: Parental controls on internet-capable devices. Monitoring use of such devices - knowing what your child is watching and looking at. Making sure you know what is on storage devices, like external hard drives and USB sticks. Educating yourself on the subject of porn and how you can best approach the issue as a parent, and educating your child (in an age-appropriate way) on what healthy relationships and healthy sex are really like. Ensure that they know (at the right age) that some types of pornography are illegal to make and to watch.
4. Sexting/sending nudes.
Problem: One word: Screenshots. If you send a risqué message or image to someone, even if they can't save it directly, they can screenshot it. There have been numerous problems with people being hacked, their private messages being leaked (including "revenge porn"), and generally messages and images getting in the hands of people they weren't intended for.
Solution: This one is a difficult one to avoid happening at all, especially once children become teenagers. The best thing to do is to teach your child that they are valuable and that their body is not a commodity. Teach them that they themselves should respect their body and that they can teach others to respect it, too. Whether they choose to send private photos etc. later on or not is up to them and is not necessarily a bad thing in a loving, adult relationship (depending on your views on the matter). Either way, if they are taught from a young age about healthy relationships (that includes parents modelling what that is to their children), they will use their knowledge and experiences to inform their future decisions. One golden rule for anyone who DOES send messages and photos of this nature: Never show your face.
5. Social media.
Problem: There are quite a number of problems that can be found on social media. From bullying, to glorification of self-harm and other serious issues, to oversharing of personal things, to sexualisation of self and others in an unhealthy way, to articles, photos, and images which are not appropriate for a young mind, to oversaturation of a false "reality". Mental health is a big issue here.
Solution: Age restrictions are there for a reason. Make sure your child is responsible and educated enough to deal with what they may came across online before letting them have free access. Keep an eye on what they are seeing and doing, especially young teens. I see so many young teens posting things which could potentially be dangerous in a variety of ways. Be "friends" with/"follow" your child, and be prepared to discuss any issues which arise. Teach them that people only post things about a small percentage of their lives, and that real life is not like social media. Teach them about the dark side and about bad things that exist on such sites, such as fake accounts, trolls, and scams to get you to send money in order for an anonymous person to NOT share (usually tampered, fake) naked photos to your family and friends. Teach them to be wary of people such as talent scouts/modelling scouts, and to never send anything personal to these people or to meet them alone until they are checked out as truly belonging to a verified agency. Social media can be a great tool for connecting with friends and family when used safely.
6. Online chatrooms/grooming.
Problem: Unfortunately, there are some people out there who target children online in order to "groom" them: to make them comfortable enough to share images and videos of themselves, to engage in inappropriate activities, and even to eventually meet with them in person. Chatrooms and chat/cam sites are less popular now since social media became popular, but there are still cases of such things being used and children becoming victims of grooming behaviour. Social media can also be used in this way - the perpetrators have simply moved location.
Solution: Encourage children to communicate only with people they know in real life. Set their privacy settings so only people they know can add them/send messages to them (especially on things like Snapchat). If they want to have funny conversations in a chatroom kind of style, there are some kid-friendly chat-bots around now, such as on Facebook Messenger. These days, they can "chat" with an AI (artificial intelligence) "being" about things like science. There are also real robots which are becoming more and more advanced, so future chat capabilities around us all will be interesting to discover! Test new things out yourself to be sure that they are truly child-appropriate!
These are just 6 things I thought of when writing this post; there are other technologies and issues which I did not touch on. Feel free to mention them in the comments, and also to mention how you do/would approach these things. Let's keep our children safe, and make use of the great technology we have around us for positive purposes!