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There is no doubt that the Internet can be an extremely useful tool for everyone, especially the younger generation. Over ninety percent of teens are using the web every day, with social media playing a big role in their digital experience. However, with the existence of instant messaging, chat rooms, emails and social networking sites, there is a huge landscape for internet dangers, and this is why parents must get involved.

The constant exposure of teens — even toddlers and children — to the internet is a primary concern for parents. According to a global study, most parents are worried about their kids’ digital behavior. In response, they want to manage and monitor it.

Parents, guardians and the family, in general, bear the main responsibility for regulating the behavior of children in the digital space. As we know, modern children are much more technically advanced than previous generations. One of the main reasons for this is that they have easy access to gadgets and hands-on experience at an early age.

Think of this exposure as similar to being on the road or going to the mall. It’s indeed quite exciting and thrilling to venture out, but it's important that parents inform their children step-by-step and stay in touch as much as possible. For driving or simply navigating malls and other public places, we have signs, rules and guidelines; indeed, we must be as diligent on the internet.

While using these mesmerizing digital gadgets, kids may lack knowledge about cyber hygiene and online security, and parents must step up and implement constructive measures to protect them, as well as help by discussing possible scenarios that children may encounter on the internet.

Parental Control: Definition and Types

Parental controls are a set of measures or conditions that parents can apply to prevent any access to inappropriate or upsetting content online. Such tools achieve the following: they manage what children can find on search engines; prevent them from spending money online; keep track of their location; teach proper cyber safety habits; and implement screen time limitations.

In simpler terms, parental controls provide the ability to teach children how to use the internet wisely and determine what is trustworthy or not.

We can categorize parental controls into four topics: content filters, usage controls, management tools and monitoring. These controls can be applied to websites and smartphones as well as gaming and streaming accounts.

Through the web browser, parents can install blockers — applicable to sites and ads — to ensure that children won’t be able to access or see unsuitable content. On smartphones, setting the screen time to a maximum number of minutes or hours can limit a child’s on-screen opportunities for untoward content or even administer options to restrict explicit apps. In the privacy setting, one can also prevent the sharing of personal information online.

With kids nowadays getting drawn to online gaming, parents can adjust the settings to limit their children’s communications (e.g., no private messaging), turn off in-game purchases, filter categories and restrict screen recording. When streaming on YouTube, for example, parents can turn on the “restricted mode” to limit the content children can view.

Parents can also track their kids’ whereabouts using GPS systems that are built into devices, as well as easily check the history of their children’s browsers. Such review can be especially useful on mobile devices, not only to guarantee the location of your children but also to help locate a lost or stolen device.

Staying Away from Internet Dangers

Numerous researchers and therapists have surmised that using the internet — and social media, in particular — takes a toll on young minds. Among the most common and impactful dangers are cyberbullying, online predators and damaged reputations.

Cyberbullying includes sending hateful messages or comments and can extend further into the creation of hurtful websites and even death threats. If children are harassed or bullied, parents must advise them to keep screenshots of the harassment as proof of offense (in case a report to authorities is in order) and then to block/ban them to stop any further means of contact. Children must also be instructed not to respond to rude or harassing emails, messages and postings, and parents must involve the police when needed.

Predators have become particularly sophisticated in their approach. In an effort to target children’s vulnerabilities, these offenders can assume fake identities and feign interest in a child's activities, such as favorite artists, TV shows, games or hobbies. It is a must to remind kids not to share any personal information, particularly numbers or addresses, with any strangers; they must refrain from sending any photos to people they just met online as well.

Online reputation can be highly influential these days. Not only can it impact personal relationships but also professional and academic access as well, both today and down the road. Thus, keeping a clean image/reputation and avoiding any and all conflicts online should be a priority. Parents are therefore in an important position to guide their kids on these matters and remind them of the vast beauty as well as the potential dangers of being online.

To this end, platforms including Instagram and TikTok have introduced more controls for parents, such as messaging limits and time caps. In 2022, Snapchat launched the Family Center in collaboration with the UAE Ministry of Possibilities.

This new parental control feature aims to support the UAE’s commitment to improving its citizens’ digital well-being by providing the necessary tools to ensure their safety, protect their privacy on the internet and boost their confidence in providing a safe environment, particularly for children.

Family Center gives parents and guardians control over their children’s internet activities, allowing them to view the people their children communicate with without letting them know they have viewed these conversations, protecting the children’s privacy and allowing them to directly report any abusive or suspicious accounts to Snap’s Trust and Safety Team.

On the other side of the world, Utah became the first US state to require social media sites to get parental consent for accounts used by underage individuals. Taking effect in March 2024, this law will address the growing concern of youth addiction to social media and, most importantly, the security risks detailed above.

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