FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — Studies show that since the COVID-19 lockdowns, people around the world, including children, are spending 20 percent more time on social media than they were pre-pandemic.
This increase in screen time has raised concerns for many parents.
“It’s kind of scary because it’s like when you go to the city park you can kind of watch your kids right and you teach him like don’t talk to strangers and stuff,” said Thomas Melvin, a Fort Wayne parent. “But, it’s like a whole world online that they can interact with strangers and dangerous people that you don’t really get to watch all the time.”
Mevlin’s concerns appear to be valid.
According to the Child Crime Prevention and Safety Center, there are more than 500,000 online predators active each day. What’s more, a significant number of them have multiple online profiles.
The website also found more than 50% of victims are ages 12 to 15. They’re typically contacted through chat rooms and instant messaging.
“With all the technology that we have, we’re all connected,” said Darryl Togashi, Indiana Tech’s Department Chair of Cybersecurity. “The problem is, is that we have not so good people out there that are using the technology as well and they’re trying to get at some of our children and who are on the more innocent end of things.”
Togashi said after lockdown, when the world became more “non facial and remote,” is when the challenges increased.
To ensure children are as safe as possible online, he offered the following tips:
- Monitor your child’s accounts and devices.
“A lot of times it’s just keeping notice,” said Togashi. “Keeping up with their account, being their friends so you can see their activity, see what’s going on with that… and kind of see, you know, if they are doing what they say they’re doing on things.”
- Set time limits
He suggested not letting kids go certain places with a phone, or setting time regulations. Parents can also control what their child is using the internet for and block certain sites.
“Even when playing games there are also people out there that try to do interaction with with the kids and try to get them to do things that they might not normally do,” said Togashi.
- Don’t ignore red flags
Togashi said a big alert that someone may not be who they say they are is when they start asking you personal question such as a social security number or location.
- If your child makes an online friend, investigate how they met
“Then be careful as to what kind of conversations are being had,” said Togashi. “These people that are online, I’m very skeptical, or skittish about that kind of that kind of environment, even though there can be nice people out there.”
- Google acronyms kids are using if you’re not sure what they mean
Togashi said to also be aware of when kids are alerting whoever they are talking to that “there are parents in the room.”
“Or kind of acronyms like that, that kind of give you kind of warning signs that maybe they’re having a conversation that’s quite not as open as they would like,” said Togashi. “So, I would look it up online.”
- Use a privacy browser
He said private browsers don’t advertise some of the private information on your, or your child’s, computer, which can make finding information more difficult for predators.
“I look at it like locking a house. You want to lock your house but, that doesn’t mean that the burglar won’t get in if they really want to get in,” said Togashi. “But, if you lock your house and your neighbor does not, they’re going to try to go into the neighbor’s house because it’s easier.”