It’s the Wild West on the Internet, and as a parent, you are responsible for keeping your kids safe “out there,” even though “out there” may be two feet away from your kitchen while you are preparing dinner. Scammers, sexual predators, cyber bullies, and every type of hack are lurking on the Internet, in a very real and aggressive sense.
Understanding What Your Children Use the Internet to Do
If you are the parent of a girl, you probably think about what name she is using in chat rooms and for instant messaging (IM), and you are wise to be concerned. How can you protect your daughter if you are unaware of what websites she visits, what chat rooms, who she chats with, and the true identities of her online “friends?”
If your teenager is a boy, what is he downloading? Are you going to be liable for illegal music downloads? Is he downloading porn and the viruses that ride along? What sites does he visit, what does he look at there? It’s a parent's right to know these things, and a parent’s responsibility if, heaven forbid, something goes terribly wrong.
Boys are aggressive downloaders, according to studies and many of the most popular sites for illegal downloads of music and movies are infested with viruses, worms, and Trojan Horses (hacker software that sneaks in and lets the hackers use your machine later!). Many of these programs will seek out your personal data and then transmit it to the hackers. Whether it is just the theft of your credit card information or full-fledged Identity Theft, you would be very wise to be alarmed by this possibility.
Did you know that recent studies show that teenage girls spend even more time on the internet than boys? That’s interesting and alarming news, as teenage girls are more likely to be cyberbullied or sexually harassed online than boys.
Dr. Michele Borba, internationally renowned educational consultant and author of 20 books, wrote “There are some specific ways to protect kids from bullying both in cyberspace and on the playground. Parents today need a closer 'electronic leash' on their kids and need to be more tuned into the cyberspace trend. This isn't about being controlling--this is good parenting.”
To extend her point, the monitoring of your children’s activities on the internet is not about control or infringing upon their privacy, it’s about protecting your children from very real threats.
Some internet service providers (like AOL and MSN) have built-in parental controls to “block out” certain types of websites. However, none of these parental controls are foolproof, which means your kids are on the loose much of the time—and if you are a typical family, your kids probably know more about computers than you.
You can’t look over their shoulder at all times, but you can do a number of very smart things. Here are seven ways to keep your kids safe when they use the Internet.
Internet Safety Guidelines
1) Talk to them about the dangers of unrestricted use of the internet. Inform them about keeping passwords really secret, never sharing a credit card number with anyone, even their best friend. And please talk with them about cyberbullying, whether they are on the receiving end or the giving end.
2) If they are on the giving end of cyberbullying, you must take away their privileges immediately. You have liability here, both ethical and legal.
3) If they are illegally downloading music and movies, make them stop. If the studios or record companies come after them, as their parent you have the legal responsibility of paying the fines.
4) Talk to them about stalkers and predators on the internet that use false identities, and urge them to be careful in chat rooms.
5) Use the parental controls that come with your internet service.
6) Take the computer out of their rooms and place it in a common area in the house. Your kids are much less likely to do something inappropriate or dangerous if other people are around.
7) Look into Internet Monitoring Software
About the Author:
Steve Cross, author of the book "Changing Channels", is a former columnist for Newman Media, Channel Media, and the Gartner Group. Steve is a contributor to various jazz publications. Currently, Steve serves as president of Guardian Software.