The Internet is a wonderful evolution of technology. It enables people to interact with one another via the computer regardless of their location in real time. It sends huge packets of data from one point to another in a heartbeat (well, at least depending on your internet speed). It provides an open environment to share knowledge and information about a variety of topics, practically everything under the sun.
With something so good, there’s always an equivalent negative side. With such a vast playground of undiscovered material, kids and teens are most likely to stumble into something that they’re not prepared to handle. This is a parent’s worst nightmare. How do you protect your children’s innocence in a system based in cyberspace?
What are your children’s activities on the Net?
Are you aware of what your kids and teens do on the Net, if they spend so much time in front of the computer? As parents, the first thing you should do is educate yourself about the Internet and with how it works so that you’ll understand what the hype is all about.
How can you even begin to protect your kids when you don’t even understand what’s going on?
Kids (and teens) usually surf the Internet from home, a friend’s house or in school. Their daily activities may include going into chatrooms where they (you guessed it) chat with other people, not necessarily their friends, who are also currently online. Instant messaging software like Yahoo and MSN are also a hit with kids because they get to communicate with their friends whom they’ve accepted in their “buddy” list. They use it to ask about homework, rehash what happened in school - that sort of thing. It’s similar to how it was when you were in high school except that the mode of communication was most likely the telephone. Email, blogging (like writing in an online journal or diary) and posting in boards are also fun kids and teens activities.
What do you need to protect them from?
Knowing what they’re doing online is a good start in protecting your kids from the evils of the Internet. This way, you are able to identify and narrow-down the possible risks involved. For instance, while surfing online, your kids may accidentally get redirected to Internet pornography sites. Though some sites require authorization and registration with a fee to gain access, some sites don’t.
In relation to this, when some sites require paid registration, your child may give out your credit card details or in some cases, reveal even most of your personal information which may result in identity theft.
Also, once they start frequenting chatrooms, boards and forums, there may be a slim chance that they’ll meet people who are not what they appear to be. There are cases of child predators masking themselves as the same age as their “chat-mate”. It’s a real threat when your children are taken in and meet these people. They may either be molested or kidnapped.
Your kids may also leave your computer open for viruses and hackers. Viruses are sometimes disseminated online via a friendly email, maybe even offering free goods and products.
What steps do you need to take to ensure your kids’ safety online?
1. As mentioned earlier, you first need to know your way about the Internet too. Through this, you can easily evaluate the sites your child frequently visits and see what other activities keep him busy online.
2. Establish ground rules on the use of the Internet. Agree on the number of hours that your child will use the Internet on a daily basis. Make him understand that any identifying personal information should never be released to anybody without the consent and approval of his parents. If possible, remove the computer from his room and move it to a more public set-up so you can easily monitor his activities and maybe even participate in some of them so as not to totally alienate your child.
3. If your child expresses a need to meet someone personally, you have to accompany him and insist on doing the rendezvous at a public place. This is just a precautionary measure in case he’s being set-up by a child predator.
4. Instill awareness in him that not all things that he sees on the Internet may be true and good. Some are really polished and designed to attract prey.
Where can you get help and more information, if needed?
There are a number of Child Protection Resources on the net. You can start by installing software that can block websites not suitable for children and protect your personal identity. Your Internet service provider may also have a service that filters the email coming to your inbox so you and your kids don’t receive “spam” or unsolicited mail. In using the Internet in school, there is a Federal Law called “Children’s Internet Protection Act” that enforces safety policies and blocking measures in schools covered by the E-rate program.
Protect your account by remembering to log out
Finding your internet history trail
-- Cathy Wesson, Dec 2006