We are currently living in a period of technological advances that this world has never seen before. The advent of the internet and the world wide web have given us the ability to communicate and be connected in new ways. However, with any new technology there are hidden dangers. The segments of the population with the greatest risk for being harmed are children and teenagers. In recent years, internet safety has been a great concern for parents, educators, and health professionals.
We must understand that children are much more technically astute then we imagine. It is imperative that parents take an active role in internet safety and partner with their children to keep them safe. There are ways to protect your children and decrease their chances of becoming victims of internet predators. Here a few suggestions that may help:
- Establish ground rules for internet usage, including the times that they may use the internet and the types of websites that they can visit. Post these rules in a place near the computer.
- Move computers to shared rooms such as the living or family room.
- Teach your child that if anything makes him/her uncomfortable, the best thing to do is “disappear”—don’t respond and get off the computer. Research shows that less then 5% of children who get a message that makes them feel uncomfortable tell their parents. This is probably because children fear they will lose computer privileges.
- Make sure your children know that they should never agree to a face-to-face meeting with anyone that they have met online.
- Internet safety software, like Net Nanny (about $50), can be helpful in blocking websites and looking for and blocking explicit pictures; it is also capable of blocking instant messages. Free programs are also available. Become familiar with viewing the internet history of your computer and maintain access to email accounts and review them regularly. Make it clear that you have access to anything on the computer and can review the history at any time.
- Make it a rule that your children know their friends in real life, as well as those they instant message.
- The only person that should add people to a child’s instant message list is the parent.
Tell your children never to give their last name, city or town they live in, the school they attend, or any other information that a predator could use to locate your child.
- If your child is going to make purchases online, it is safest to use the Pay pal service.
- Restrict instant messaging on cell phones and video game systems.
- Limit the time of day your child has access—it is probably more dangerous to be online at night when adults who may be predators have gotten off of work.
- Special note: Social Networking Websites (e.g., MySpace)—these sites allow users to post information about themselves such as location, birthday, interests, schools attended, and pictures. Internet predators would have all of the information they need to locate your child if given access to this information. Parents can set rules for their children, such as not being allowed to post pictures. Parents can also restrict access to their child’s page to their “friends” (other users who have asked to be linked to your child’s page and are approved).
- Special note: Blogs—A blog, short for Web Log, is a website of your own where you enter information ordered by date. It is an online diary or online journal that is shared with others online. Many of the same rules apply as with the social networking websites: Never give out personal information that a predator can use to locate you. Help your children to understand that once something is posted on the internet, it can not be taken back and there are potential consequences for posting things that are inappropriate or harmful. Make it a habit to read your children’s blogs and let them know that you will be doing so.
For more information about internet safety you can visit the following websites:
How to Protect Your Children on the Internet: A Road Map for Parents and Teachers
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