#parent | #kids | In the age of COVID, children must be protected from online stranger danger

Do you remember exactly what you were doing the day you were told to leave the office after lunch, pack up your dorm right before you were supposed to head to class, or even evacuate a building as you were shopping? COVID-19 has undoubtedly affected many Americans lives, especially those living in Connecticut. Family members lives have collided as they’ve been forced to address lifestyle changes that affect their new household dynamic in a “new normal.”

Tiara Starks

Young children are being expected to adjust even quicker, considering the style of their education has changed dramatically. Classes are being held over video-conferencing services, in a time where technology is ever changing and connectivity issues are becoming even more common. What comes with that are children being even more susceptible now to pop up ads and phishing scams than ever before.

Once a child is exposed to content that isn’t safe for their eyes, the first thing they try to do is find out more about what they just saw, by clicking and poking around these sites that offer no warning as to what type of content lies ahead. I know this, because I’ve done the same thing many times.

I’m a current resident of Stamford and have recently moved back after living in Riverside (a section of Greenwich) for two years. What I’ve observed is that there’s an obvious difference to how Riverside youth view life to Stamford’s and what doesn’t surprise me is the comments I hear that reverberate in my head as to what makes Riverside “great.”

I’ve heard it all before: “The streets are so safe,” “the schools are cleaner,”” the homes are bigger,” “the shops are grander.” “The children are smarter.” Some children don’t have consistent access to televisions, computers and phones, nevermind internet access. The children who aren’t as privileged and aren’t aware of how they can be protected online need support.

To give some background, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act  protects the personal information of children under the age of 13 on websites, apps, and other online services. COPPA requires those sites and services to notify parents for approval to collect, use or disclose a child user’s personal data. However, if your 11-year old daughter makes a Twitter account and puts down that she’s 13, your child isn’t protected under this law. What does that mean for parents? How are they able to safeguard their children from using the internet improperly?

Who am I to judge a parent who can’t watch their child 24/7, especially if they’re still adjusting to a work from home environment for their job? While I don’t expect parents to monitor their kids all the time, they need to set rules that help their child’s overall well being.

Mental health breaks are very important to a child’s social, physical, and psychological development and when you strip that part away from them, what do they have left? In addition to that, what about students who have life-impairing disabilities? Do they get placed on the back burner?

The narrative of leaving children behind is what stays in the back of my mind day in and day out. How many children will we leave behind? I’ve always believed that children should be at the forefront of online privacy issues, as they, alongside the older community, face more risk and exposure. Monitoring a child’s online usage will be apart of how someone might evaluate your child’s mental health. Right now, the internet is their escape. We’re living in the Information Age and your child knows that, no matter how old they are.

No matter how affable an online predator might be, remind your kids that stranger danger still exists, even during a pandemic, and especially on the internet.

Tiara Grace Starks is a student at the University of New Haven.


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