Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
Most kids have grown up with computers, smart phones and social media, and they’re pretty good at working the technology.
Unfortunately, their lack of maturity and critical thinking skills leaves them vulnerable to sexual predators, bullies and any number of scams, said Michael Ollom, an Albuquerque social worker.
“I’ve been working on the mental health of kids for many years and I recognize the risk and how kids could get hurt, but I also recognize how parents don’t have the tools to protect them and don’t actually know the full risk that’s out there,” Ollom said.
He’s hoping to change that through a series of classes geared toward teaching kids age 8-12 how to stay safe while negotiating their way around the internet. The course, called “Defending Young Minds,” will incorporate tips for parents and activities parents and children can do together to get the message across.
There is danger in people contacting children online, sometimes pretending to be a different gender or age, slowly building a relationship and soliciting naked or suggestive photos. The end game is to groom them for a face-to-face meeting and sexual contact, Ollom said.
The often anonymous online environment also lends itself to bullying.
“Kids don’t really understand the consequences of comments that they make, and maybe are more emboldened to hurt a person from afar,” he said.
And then there is the issue of addiction, and not just to drugs, which kids can access through online contacts. Young people can also get addictions to gambling, pornography, shopping, video games and just the act of being online, Ollom said.
“During the pandemic, when kids were locked down at home, screen time was valued, particularly access to school.” But much of that screen time outside of school lessons was unfettered and unprotected. “We’re now pulling back on that as we return to our regular lives,” and children can be resistant, he said, “having grown accustomed to their life online with their favorite sites and games.”
And the dangers of that unfettered and unprotected access persist. Surveys conducted by the American Psychological Association and other professional organizations reveal a number of disturbing findings:
• One in 10 children under the age of 10 has been exposed to online pornography, either deliberately, or by a wrong click or misspelled search;
• The average age for a child’s first exposure to online pornography is just over 13, with the youngest exposure as early as 5;
• Only 3% of pornographic websites require proof of age, and 25% of the sites do not preface entrance with an adult-content warning;
• 10% of 12- to 13-year-olds believe that they may be addicted to pornography;
• And 25% of parents believe their kids had seen porn, while 53% of children surveyed said they had actually seen porn.
In addition, the cybersecurity company BitDefender says children under age 10 are increasingly visiting porn mega sites, such as Pornhub, and this age group accounts for 22% of underage visitors to that site alone.
The Defending Young Minds course will unfold over five one-hour sessions limited to six participants. Each session will feature two videos on various subjects related to internet safety and narrated by teens who are older than the 8-12 year old targeted demographic group, Ollom said. That will be followed by in-class group discussions and questions and answers.
At the end of each session, the participating kids will be given papers to take home, which will inform parents of the material covered during that day’s session. Included will be tips concerning internet safety for children and exercises that parents and children can do together.