Exposure to Darkness: Protecting Kids from Online Danger

Original image by bermix studio on unsplash

How young is too young to lose the innocence of childhood? To discover that the world could be an ugly and dangerous place?

When my 10-year old daughter got an iPad for her birthday, we were excited to check out her favorite cat videos on YouTube together. We turned on the iPad, opened Safari browser, and I typed the letter Y in the address box. Autosuggestion filled out the rest. The site that it offered to my innocent child was Youporn — not YouTube.

Pornography

27% of all online videos are pornographic. More than a quarter of the Internet. Are we naïve enough to assume our children will not see it? My son came across inappropriate content accidentally. But then he got curious and looked for more. Thankfully, he had the wisdom to tell me and I scrambled to update content filters on our family WiFi. Many kids never tell, and pornography proceeds to destroy their brains, leading to porn addiction and sexual dysfunction in adulthood.

Predators

“Stranger danger” in the digital age is in the privacy of a child’s bedroom, when they are alone with their devices. The more time they spend on screens — unsupervised — the higher the chances they could become a target of sexual exploitation. Kids are more likely to be harassed by pedophiles online than in the real world: 1 in 5 children experience an unwanted sexual solicitation on the Internet.

Violence

Violent video games reward aggressive behavior with points and prizes. Aggressive fantasies create a script for the young gamer: when you are mad, you shoot and kill. Availability bias is a shortcut in the brain that retrieves immediate examples that come to mind, making video games a training ground for real violence. It is not harmless entertainment.

Psychologists call violent video games “murder simulators”.

The defenders of screen violence claim that getting anger “out of the system” into the screens is getting rid of it — the catharsis hypothesis. The opposite is true — practicing anger online rewires the brain for violence. It puts gasoline on the fire. If the child is constantly in a state of gaming-induced rage, how likely is he to be LESS angry?!

Self-Harm

Social media is behind the rise in self-harm and suicides, most tragically, of young children. On the Internet, children can engage in dangerous fantasies about injury or death. Exposure to the dark content triggers imitation, especially in kids who are already troubled. For those struggling with mental health, suicides that are broadcasted and glorified become an instruction manual. Darkness is frequently exploited for profit by shows like 13 Reasons Why.

Eating Disorders

Pro-anorexia (pro-ana) and pro-bulimia (pro-mia) sites promote eating disorders among girls who see starving themselves as a way to become “thin and beautiful”. Exposure to fake photoshopped beauty of chiseled abs and hip bones on social media makes the problem worse: the body girls are trying to create is anatomically impossible.

Cyberbullying

The worst of human nature comes out online. Gossip, rumors, threats, insults, trolling, stalking, sexist and racist slurs, exposing personal information, even ignoring or unfriending someone can be labeled as cyberbullying. Children are immature — they can be cruel because they do not know better. Impulsive young brain does not think of consequences, and tech deletes the pause between impulse and response. Collateral damage is piling up on social media.

How Can We Protect Our Kids?

In the documentary “The Mind: Explained” the speaker uses a metaphor to describe the spread of smartphones: it’s like we have just invented cars and everyone is driving them everywhere, but…we have not invented seat belts yet.

We do not leave them alone with online monsters in the dark.

Mom of 3, practitioner of the craft of screen time. Founded the blog www.TechDetoxBox.com to help protect human well-being from the power of addictive tech.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store