How Internet savvy are you? Although many parents can remember life BI (Before the Internet), your kids have probably never been without it. As parents, we need to be aware of the opportunities and pitfalls the Internet provides for them.
To assist parents, many Internet Service Providers are also providing parental controls. For instance, Cox, Earthlink, and AOL all provide services limiting children’s access to the Internet, tracking the time they are online, and providing a log of what they did while online. According to Kym Koch Thompson of Cox Communications, “We’re trying to let kids do the things they want to do, but a little bit more safely.”
Hidden Dangers and Protective Measures
Kids can stumble onto web sites with questionable content just by entering a misspelled web address. Pornographic or violent web sites target children and try to use common mistakes to route web traffic their way. Making a list of favorite sites for your child will prevent them having to type in the web site address—they can just point and click. You can also use web filtering software provided by your service provider or purchased separately. Such software blocks out sites you do not want your kids to access.
Free downloads are enticing, but downloading from an unreliable or questionable source could mean that your free download also includes malicious code in the form of a virus or “spyware”—software that captures your keystrokes, especially dangerous if your computer is used for online banking. Along with using virus scanning or firewall protection, make a household rule that your kids are not to download anything without parental permission.
Children love chat rooms and instant messages—and predators know that. People who prey on children go where children go, and on the Internet, that is chat rooms. Posing as children or just lurking (entering a chat room and monitoring the discussions) can give a predator enough information to harm a child. Parents need to be aware of the chat rooms their child visits, and the language of acronyms that kids use. For instance, if your child types in “P911!,” would you know that he is alerting his chat room that his parents are coming? Keeping up with the acronyms used (see last bullet point below) makes it easier to detect if your kids are chatting with friends or a potentially dangerous strangers.
Smart Internet Tips
Both Earthlink and Cox have partnered with outside organizations to help promote safety on the Internet for kids. Earthlink has partnered with Kids Fighting Chance (kidsfightingchance.com), a not for profit group that provides children with education to keep themselves safe from predators. Cox has connected with NetSmartz (netsmartz.org), an educational resource that helps keep children safe on the Internet. Both of these sites are great resources for kids and parents to learn safe Internet usage.
- Keep the computer you use to access the Internet in a common area in your home, such as the family room. For older kids, post a listing of Internet usage house rules so there are no questions about what is acceptable.
- Model good behavior—keep passwords in a safe place, don’t download from questionable sites, be a responsible Internet user.
- Use the protective software available from your Internet service provider. Most providers will include information about how to set up the software when you initially sign up with them. If you are not sure about your provider’s parental controls, contact them. You can also check your local software store for parental control software that suits your needs.
- Keep your software up to date. This includes not only your virus scanning or firewall software, but also your web browser and operating system. Often, the software develops release updates to remedy problems that were unforeseen at the time of release—problems that could compromise your computer’s security.
- Talk to your kids about the dangers and benefits of the Internet. Let them know your feelings about what web sites are acceptable. Discuss the fact that they should never meet an online “friend” in person. Keep the lines of communication open so your kids feel comfortable talking to you about issues that might confuse them.
- Educate yourself about the Internet—go online and visit the web sites your child frequents.
- Let your kids know not to open files sent from anyone they don’t know. This pertains to e-mail files, ads, or downloads from web sites.
- Know chat room language. The acronyms change often, but a good list can be found at cox.com/takecharge/parents_chat.asp.
Though the Internet can be daunting for parents, it is easy to understand by using a few basic tools. Educate yourself on the workings of the Internet and you will better be able to protect your child. Now if I could just figure out how to set the clock on my microwave …
Helpful Web Sites
- www.childrenspartnership.org. Contains a downloadable “Parent’s Guide to the Information Superhighway.”
- www.cybersmart.org. Internet safety information and downloadable activities and tips.
- www.getnetwise.com. Tips for parents on how to keep kids safe online and how to protect your computer and personal information from unwanted access.
- www.ikeepsafe.org. A site formed by state governors that includes basic rules of Internet safety.
- www.wiredkids.org. Safety information and games teaching Internet safety.
- www.kiddonet.com. A safe Internet environment for kids, including activities, web mail, and educational content for kids age 3-12.
- www.familypcsecurity.com. A local company (414-7327) that will come to your home to scan and configure your computer.
Mari Farthing is a freelance writer and the Assistant Editor for MetroFamily Magazine. She lives in Oklahoma City with her husband and two children.