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Pandemic Increased Children’s Internet Time, and With That, Risks

Wednesday, June 09, 2021

Boy using the internet on iPad lying on the bed. Photo by Emily Wade on Unsplash.comThe internet has played a huge role in our lives during the COVID-19 pandemic, for better and worse. It allowed adults to work and children to attend school from home, and for doctor visits, counseling sessions, exercise classes, and social gatherings to take place remotely. But for many people,  its use has become excessive, and scammers are taking full advantage of increased online activity.

Many parents eased restrictions on their children’s screen time when the pandemic hit because, frankly, they had bigger problems to deal with. As the pandemic ebbs and children as young as age 12 are vaccinated, the summer of 2021 will hopefully see a restoring of the balance.

Summer typically provides more unstructured time, which for some children increases the allure of screen time. During National Internet Safety Month, NewBridge Services offers tips to manage screen time and protect children (and adults) from online risks.

Children Online Like Never Before

Even before the pandemic hit, a Common Sense Media national survey in 2019 found 41% of 8- to 12-year-olds and a whopping 84% of 13- to 18-year-olds had their own cell phones. The younger age group spent nearly five hours a day on screens for entertainment, while the teenagers clocked an average of 7 hours 20 minutes, according to the report.

The 2020 Common Sense Media report found that “nearly half of 2- to 4-year-olds and more than two-thirds of 5- to 8-year-olds have their own tablet or smartphone.” Children under age 2 have 49 minutes of screen time, and that jumps to two and a half hours for 2- to 4-year-olds. Children ages 5 to 8 spend more than three hours on screens, according to the report.

Spending excessive time online results in children and teens participating less in activities that benefit their development. And research shows that teenagers who spend a lot of time on social media have increased anxiety and depression.

Tips to Keep Kids Safe Online

Parents can help their children manage screen time and protect them from risks:

  • Establish house rules about the use of devices and make sure your kids understand them. Then enforce them.
  • Take advantage of parental controls on devices to prevent your child from reaching inappropriate websites.
  • Talk regularly with your kids about how important it is NOT to share personal information online, and to consider others’ privacy before sharing photos and videos.
  • Know what online games your children are using to ensure they are age-appropriate.
  • Have your children use child-friendly search engines that screen results.
  • Limit how much time your child can spend on computers, tablets and cell phones.
  • Remind your kids that social media posts exist for all time so they need to be prudent about what they share.
  • Keep bedrooms device-free. 
  • Talk to your kids about cyberbullying, so they are neither victims nor perpetrators.
  • Kids learn from their parents: don’t use your cell phone while driving.

The U.S. Department of Justice posted two videos explaining internet safety to both parents and children here.

Risks to Adults

Adults too need to be vigilant about online risks. Phishing schemes abound touting COVID treatment and aid. The DOJ recently shut down hundreds of bogus websites suspected of trying to trick people into giving personal information, or installing malware to capture private data. As the vaccine rollout picked up steam in the spring, so too came phishing emails and text messages purportedly sent by the Pfizer sand Moderna, but that were in fact scammers. 

The Better Business Bureau this month raised the alarm on another scheme involving the COVID-19 funeral assistance program.  The victim receives an email or text (or call) that claims to be from a Federal Emergency Management Agency worker. The message says the recipient is eligible for the financial assistance but must provider personal information to register.

The FBI reported an unemployment benefits text scam that is after personal information. The agency urged recipients of texts purported to be from the Department of Workforce Development not to click on the link, as it might allow the scam artists to access personal data. More than $120,000 in legitimate unemployment benefits have been hijacked, the FBI said. 

It’s easy for scammers to falsely portray themselves online. That’s an important fact parents need to remember and teach their kids. Excessive internet use itself can be problematic, or it may be a means of masking underlying issues. NewBridge provides counseling services for children, as well as adults, and family counseling. For more information, call (973) 316-9333 or email at services@newbridge.org.

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