The Internet and Children: The Risks
The Internet offers many positive educational and social benefits to young people, but unfortunately there are risks, too. As in any other area of life, children and young people are vulnerable and may expose themselves to danger, knowingly or unknowingly, when using the internet and other digital technologies. Indeed, some young people may find themselves involved in activities which are inappropriate or possibly illegal.
Inappropriate MaterialOne of the key risks of using the internet, email or chatrooms is that young people may be exposed to inappropriate material. This may be material that is pornographic, hateful or violent in nature; that encourages activities that are dangerous or illegal; or that is just age-inappropriate or biased. One of the key benefits of the web is that it is open to all, but unfortunately this also means that those with extreme political, racist or sexual views, for example, are able to spread their distorted version of the world.
In the case of pornography and child abuse images, there is no doubt that the internet plays host to a large amount of legal and illegal material.
Physical DangerThe threat of physical danger is perhaps the most worrying and extreme risk associated with the use of the internet and other technologies, and is probably the risk most reported by the media.
A criminal minority make use of the internet and chatrooms to make contact with young people with the intention of developing relationships which they can progress to sexual activity. Paedophiles will often target a child, posing as a young person with similar interests and hobbies in order to establish an online 'friendship'. These relationships may develop to a point where the paedophile has gained the trust in order to meet in person. These techniques are often known as 'online enticement', 'grooming' or 'child procurement'.
BullyingCyber Bullying – whether by internet, mobile phone or any other method – is another aspect of the use of new technologies that provide an anonymous method by which bullies can torment their victims. While a young person may or may not be in physical danger, they may receive email, chat or text messages that make them feel embarrassed, upset, depressed or afraid. This can damage their self-esteem and pose a threat to their psychological wellbeing.
Illegal BehaviourSome young people may get involved in inappropriate, antisocial or illegal behaviour while using digital technologies. Just as in the real world, groups or cliques can form online, and activities that start out as harmless fun, such as voicing an opposing opinion to another member of a chatroom, can quickly escalate to something much more serious.
Illegal ActivitySome children and young people may become involved in other equally serious activities. Possible risks include involvement in identity theft or participation in hate or cult websites, or in the buying and selling of stolen goods. The ease of access to online gambling, suicide sites, sites selling weapons, hacking sites, and sites providing recipes for making drugs or bombs are also of great concern. There is some evidence to suggest that young people have become involved in the viewing, possession, making and distribution of indecent and/or child abuse/pornographic images.
Divulging Personal InformationMost parents do not allow their children to give out personal information online and around 50% of children acknowledge this. Just under half of 9-19 year old children who go online once a week say that they have given out personal information, such as their full name, age, address, email address, phone number, hobbies, name of their school etc., to someone they met on the internet.
In summary, risks associated with using the internet and digital technologies are often categorised as resulting from content, contact, commerce or culture.
|Exposure to age inappropriate material|
Exposure to inaccurate or misleading information
Exposure to socially unacceptable material that might incite violence hate or intolerance
Exposure to illegal material
|Exposure of minors to inappropriate commercial advertising|
Commercial and financial scams
Divulging personal information
|Grooming using communication technologies leading to assault of a sexual or other nature||Bullying via websites, mobile phones etc|
Downloading of copyrighted material for example music and films
Read our article The Internet: Advice For Parents which offers some useful advice.