Jennifer Ranking

The internet is an extraordinary place. It’s an endless resource of information allowing individuals to learn, teach and entertain. It can have a huge effect on society in general and can influence certain ideas and perceptions of matters that we may have never engaged with face to face. However, since the growing reputation of social networks, there’s a risk that many of those connected with them are in danger of experiencing negativity online.

Foster children generally come into care from having a challenging background which can affect their self-esteem, confidence and cause depression. Social media can be a vulnerable place for those who get too caught up in the activities available online.

Understanding Risks and The Impact

In this section, the types of risks involved with being online will be outlined and how they can have a negative effect on children.

Cyberbullying

This is probably one of the main risks for children that they face online. The growth of mobile phones and social networks means children can be easily targeted with abusive jokes and threats. Essentially, children will be targeted through a joke that can later escalate to something far more serious. It can normally start from those who claim to be a close friend or trolls who remain anonymous making it easy for them target children. The longer that the bullying goes on it can be extremely detrimental both physically and mentally to the victim. So, if you get any hint of cyberbullying try to stop it as early as possible. Even if your foster child is causing the abuse, make sure to monitor it and stop it appropriately.

Mobile Games and Apps

Apps have been a common feature for smartphones allowing people to use services and products at the touch of a button. However, there are some applications and games available in app stores which aren’t suitable for younger children and are normally applied with age restrictions. The biggest risk with mobile apps is that in order for them to improve the user experience for the benefit of their business, they look to access personal information and sensitive data which the downloader must provide.

This can make children extremely vulnerable as apps information can be easily accessible for cyber-criminals. It’s important to make sure that you monitor the types of apps that a child is downloading and it’s not an app that easily shares personal data.

Grooming Online

The internet can be scary considering the ease at which individuals can create false personas and profiles online. This has disturbingly made online grooming incredibly easy to do. Online grooming is when an adult creates a profile or remains anonymous online and contacts children in a friendly manner. Soon enough they create a relationship with the child, easily gaining their trust and using it as a way for them to take advantage of them. It then provides them with the opportunity to meet up face to face which can be extremely terrifying. It’s a popular method for child groomers as children are unfortunately more likely to trust people they meet online than the ones they meet in person. They can also easily target those who don’t have their internet use monitored.

Other risks that are not as commonly known

The ones outlined above are the more common risks when it comes to the dangers of online, however, there are also other risks that you should be aware of:

  • Hacking/identity theft
  • Blackmail
  • Promotional content about self-harm or drug use
  • A section of the internet known as ‘The Dark Web’ where illegal online transactions can take place (It’d be worth educating them about the matter if your child is tech-savvy)
  • Sharing of information which appears to be false news

Methods That Can Be Used To Help Protect Young Children

Young children have become familiar with how the internet works due to the influence it has on their lives growing up. Unfortunately, this can’t necessarily be said for parents and carers making it difficult to protect them from online use. In order for you to have the knowledge to deal with matters that can help protect them from the online world, we’ve outlined some steps that you can take that can help towards protecting them for misuse of the internet.

With any electronic device that has the access to connect to the internet, they provide the option to have parental controls so that you can manage the content they see online. Look to do this for both the main computer you use at home and also their mobile or tablet devices. Just try not to make it out like you’re controlling them though, do it in a way that allows them to understand the reasons you’re doing it.

Sit with them whilst they’re on the device and ask questions about the game they’re playing or the app they’re using. Then they can be involved in the process of applying privacy settings when you choose to ask about it. They’ll be more familiar with the device to access the section of the app or game, but you can help them to understand why the privacy settings are needed. It can be used as a way to teach others.

A setting called ‘location services’ is something that apps/games can use to share the device’s location. This can potentially be shared with strangers without knowing it so check to make sure this isn’t being used. You can normally find this in the settings menu.

Always be sure to keep the apps up to date too, as the majority of the time the app developers will provide an update to keep the security improved.

Being a foster carer you still want to encourage your children to grow and make decisions for themselves, so where possible show them how to report abuse if they receive any. This way, you’ll find it easier to trust them if they do receive negative comments online.

It can be easy as a foster parent to be left behind when it comes to online resources so it’s important to take advantage of the resources available to you. Regular communication and involvement between you and your foster child can be key to making the process easier with protecting them.

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