The dark web is that unregulated corner of the cyberspace where illegal deals and criminal schemes are hatched. It is also easily accessible to children, which should give parents serious cause for concern.
The Internet is a huge playground that sees data, devices, and people interacting on an unparalleled scale. It is informative and helpful, but, just like a physical playground, there is scope for damage in the online realm, especially for younger users who might not be fully aware of the danger that lurks just beneath the surface: the dark web.
What is the dark web and why is it dangerous?
As the name suggests, the dark web is the darker aspect of the digital world that we are oh-so-familiar with today. It derives its existence from the deep web, which, in its original form, was supposed to be an unindexed portion of the cyberspace that provided users with anonymity and privacy. The lack of visibility and regulation that exemplified the dark web, however, was taken advantage of by malicious actors to create something far more dangerous and nefarious.
Today, the dark web is a place where all kinds of criminals and less savoury elements of society come together to buy, sell and share everything illegal and unethical in the real world. In those shadowy corners of the World Wide Web thrive dangers ranging from identity theft and narcotics/weapons trade, to suicide chatrooms and child pornography.
Take the “Blue Whale Challenge”, for instance, which preyed on the need for peer acceptance in young children. Luring users in with innocuous tasks that progressively became riskier and more damaging, with elements of self-harm, cyberbullying, and online shaming involved. The phenomenon is thought to be responsible for several unrelated suicides amongst children and young adults globally.
Imagine your child exposed to such a harmful influence. Not a pleasant thought at all, is it?
What makes the dark web all the more dangerous is the ease with which it can be accessed. Private networks like TOR (The Online Routers) and I2P (Invisible Internet Projects) give young children a gateway into the horrific and alluring content in the depths of the dark web. Unbeknownst to their parents, kids often dive deep down into this secret yet dangerous rabbit hole through their PCs, laptops, and smartphones—unmonitored, unregulated and unnoticed.
So, if you want to prevent your child from being exposed to such harmful influences, here are a few measures that you can implement to protect them against the dangers of the dark web.
Keep a check: While your ward’s privacy should be valued and respected, as a parent, you also have to don the hat of a regulator and protector. This makes it important for you to constantly check their digital devices and the kind of software, applications and tools that they use—especially those which require TOR or I2P access. It is also advisable to monitor your child’s online time and activities, whom they interact with, and their behaviour.
Educate and talk to your children: Young children typically seek attention elsewhere when they feel they’re not getting enough at home. This is why you must spare some time to initiate friendly conversations with your children. Talk to them about their likes/dislikes, interests and concerns, as well as any new developments in their lives, in a non-intrusive manner. This will help you develop a comfortable equation that encourages your child to be more forthcoming with you and will allow you to educate them about critical issues, such as narcotic use, sex education, bullying, online information sharing and violent behaviour.
Take them out for a digital detox: Today, we spend more time with digital devices than ever before. Your kids, if anything, are even more addicted to technology. This is why it is important to help them break away from their screens by undertaking simple yet relaxing physical activities. It could be spending time as a family, learning a new hobby, or just a walk in the park. If you begin inculcating this habit from a young age, you won’t even know when it becomes a part and parcel of their everyday lives.
Stay in touch with them through smart gadgets: Yes, you heard it right. Smartwatches that connect you to your child’s phone through an app are indeed a good way to track their activities. You can buy such smartwatches online or in gadgets showrooms nearby and be the digitally-savvy parent that your child needs and deserves.
Monitor their online purchases: If you’ve given your child a credit/debit card of their own, it is always best to link it to your account. This gives you visibility into any online transactions that your child makes, as well as where they are making their purchases from. It is also advisable to keep track of their online orders and empty delivery cartons. Also, check if your ward has access to anonymous currencies such as bitcoin; this can be easily gauged by tracking the package details and mode of payment.
The Internet, like most things in life, is both a boon and a curse. In the right hands and with the right guidance, it can be a pathway to unparalleled opportunities for learning and growth. Without proper regulation, however, it can be extremely destructive and may negatively impact your child’s future. As a modern parent, it is your responsibility to ensure that young children remain protected from the various threats online—and following the aforementioned tips might just help you save your young one from walking the harrowing path of the dark web.
The author is founder and director, Shemford Group of Futuristic Schools