Use of and access to the Internet has exploded over the last ten years. The World Wide Web has enabled us to do things from the comfort of our homes like never before. The Internet can be a useful tool, and lots of fun. When your child goes on line, they can:
- Access educational resources including encyclopedias, journals, and more.
- Obtain up-to-the-minute information on current events.
- Send mail instantly to people around the globe.
- Learn about places around the world and be exposed to other cultures and other points of view.
- Participate in real-time forums on topics of interest.
- Get help with homework through all kinds of references and resources.
- Have fun playing games, sometimes with people thousands of miles away.
The Internet does carry some risks. It is largely unregulated and not all the information on it is accurate. Advertisers market to children just as they do in any media. Your child may have their privacy invaded by some Web sites or individuals they come across online. In addition, there are many sites that contain things inappropriate for children, including pornography, hate speech, and gambling. Finally, criminals can use the Internet with the intent of financially or sexually exploiting kids or harming them in other ways.
Fortunately, there are lots of steps you can take to help your child reap the benefits of the Internet while steering clear of the dangers. Here are some tips:
Teach your children about Internet safety.
- Discuss with your children what kinds of sites you feel are okay for them to explore, and those that are not. Tell them that not all Web sites are friendly and if they encounter a site that makes them feel uncomfortable, they should leave the site immediately. (The “back” button is their friend.)
- Create a screen name for your child to protect their real identity on interactive sites. That way, if they encounter an uncomfortable situation, they need not worry that someone could track them down.
- Tell your children to never reveal personal information over the Internet without your permission.
- Keep passwords secret —including from friends.
- Discourage your child from entering chat rooms. If there is a chat room on a topic your child would like to participate in, enter into the chat room together.
- If your child meets a new “friend” online, have them introduce the friend to you online.
- Do not agree to meet in person anyone “met” in an online chat room. People are often not who they pretend to be online.
- Have your child tell you about anything threatening or uncomfortable that they come across online right away.
- Here are some links for your kids to explore that discuss Internet safety:
Take an active role in your child's Internet activities.
- Protect your child's privacy online
- Keep your computer in a common area instead of in your child's bedroom so you can easily monitor your child's Internet usage.
- Share an e-mail account with your children so you can keep track of the messages they receive.
- Bookmark your child's favorite Web sites for easy and convenient access.
- Spend time exploring the Internet together.
Protect your children from objectionable Web sites by preventing their access to them.
- Blocking software blocks access to certain sites based on a “bad site” list composed by the computer owner, Internet Service Provider, or software vender. The manufacturer of the blocking software may provide periodic updates (sometimes for an additional fee). Unfortunately, the number of new Web sites created daily far exceeds the ability of any software company to keep their “bad list” current. Thus, children can still access some sites with adult content.
- Filtering software blocks access to sites with certain key words in the domain name. Unfortunately, many developers of adult sites create domain names that do not contain likely key words and are able to bypass the filtering software. Also, more rudimentary programs will filter out anything with the key letters and may prevent access to informational sites (For example, a site on Essex, England may be blocked because it contains the letters s-e-x.).
- Monitoring and tracking software tracks what sites the user accesses during their time on line. These programs vary keeping a list of Web sites visited to recording every key stoke punched. This type of program monitors Internet use but in itself will not prevent access to any particular sites. Often, the tracking software is bundled with either a blocking or filtering product.
- Special browsers allow access to a limited number of sites, usually dictated by the company producing the browser. Unlike browsers such as Internet Explorer or Netscape that allow access to any Web site on the Internet, these browsers only can access approved sites. They function in a similar manner to blocking software, but are not affected by the creation of new sites.
- Outgoing filter programs prevent personal information such as name, address, and phone number from being sent online.
- Your child suddenly turns off the computer when you walk into the room.
- Your child is spending long hours online, especially at night.
- Your child receives calls from people you don't know, or receives unsolicited gifts in the mail.
- Your child withdraws from family life and is reluctant to discuss Internet activities.
- You find pornography on your child's computer.
- You find unfamiliar charges on your credit card and phone bills.
Beware of sexual exploitation on the Internet, especially through chat rooms and social-networking sites.
- Chat rooms are Web sites where real-time discussions take place. Many people use these sites to meet new people from across the world and talk about common interests. Unfortunately, pedophiles (adults who are sexually interested in children) have used chat rooms to lure children into calling or meeting them. Criminals may ask children to give out their personal information such as addresses or phone numbers over the Internet. Even if the child does not offer this information, some sex offenders may convince children to call them and, with caller ID, they have instant access to the child's phone number. Another technique used by sex offenders includes bribing children with gifts, trips, and money in exchange for meeting them. Remember that in chat rooms, people do not always tell the truth about who they are.
- Kids use lots of acronyms and slang when texting, chatting or instant messaging (IM). Keep up on the terms so you can tell what they’re talking about.
- Strongly discourage children from face-to-face meetings with people they have “met” on-line. If they insist on meeting someone they have been in contact with online, call ahead to verify and arrange a meeting together with your child in a public place. Do not invite the online “friend” to your home or give out your address.
- Profile, blog, or social-networking sites (such as Facebook) present the same kinds of risks. These kinds of sites are public and kids should not post anything they wouldn't want the world to know, anything that could embarrass them in the future or anything that would make it easy for a stranger to find them. In addition, others who post are not always exactly who or what they say they are. Again, make sure your kids know not to agree to meet face-to-face with online “acquaintances” through these sites. Monitor what your kids post online, by looking at their page together with them regularly. The same goes for video network sites like YouTube.
- If you think your child may be a victim, or to report suspicious online activity involving children, you can go to:
- The Cyber Tip Line, or call 1-800-843-5678.
Have fun with your children. Using the Internet can be most enjoyable (and safe!) if you spend time together at the computer as a family. Bookmark these favorite sites so they’re easy for your kids to find next time.
Here are some kid-safe search engines to use:
- Ask for KIDS (formerly called AskJeevesforKids.com) offers information handpicked by an editorial staff and geared toward kids ages 7 to 14. Only G-rated pages and those written specifically for children are included in search results.
- Yahoo!KIDS is aimed at kids ages 7 to 12 and is among the oldest kids' search engines. It is staffed by educational professionals and former teachers who review every site in the directory.
Here are just a few fun Web sites to get you started:
- America's Story from the Library of Congress has truly fascinating stories to explore. This is a great family site.
- The Exploratorium – The Web site of the San Francisco museum of science, art, and human perception. Includes interactive activities and video segments.
- The National Gallery of Art kids' page has neat art-related activities for kids.
- Sesame Workshop – created by the Children's Television Workshop. This Web site has activities for kids as well as useful parenting advice.
- At PBS Kids, children can play games based on popular PBS TV shows.
- Funbrain – this site contains educational online computer games for school-aged kids.
- KidsHealth is a site with specific health information geared toward kids, teens, and parents.
- Mr. Dowling's Electronic Passport —a cool social studies site by a Florida teacher.
- The Yuckiest Site on the Internet —this site answers questions on a wide range of “yucky” topics from worms to ear wax.
- Refdesk provides access to many sources of current information from news to weather to history.
- The Internet Public Library—KidSpace
- The Internet Public Library—TeenSpace
- The Green Hour is a project of the National Wildlife Federation. It exists to give parents and caregivers the information, tools, and inspiration to get their kids -- and themselves – outside. The website has lots of family-friendly content and hosts a supportive virtual community where families can learn, explore, and share their outdoor experiences and backyard adventures.
- More Cool Sites for Kids from the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC)
- As with any media, too much computer time can replace other important activities in your child's life. Encourage your child to take part in a variety of activities, and make it a priority to do things together with your children. You may want to decide with your child how much time they are allowed to spend online each day.
- The Internet can by used as a tool by bullies. Learn more about cyberbullying from the site stopcyberbullying.org, which has information for kids of different age groups, parents, teachers and law enforcement.
- Unfortunately, marketing to children has become as commonplace online as it is on TV and elsewhere. Because of the number of ads on the Internet, and the fact that many Web sites are just elaborate ads disguised as games or information, it's important to teach your child to be media literate about the Web.
- Here are some helpful Internet media literacy resources and tips:
- Internet messages about alcohol and tobacco abound, and many are targeted to kids. Teach your child to be media literate, and keep tabs on the sites they visit. Talk with them about advertisers' messages on the Internet, and how to protect kids’ privacy on commercial Web sites.
- Teach your child not to automatically trust everything they read on the Internet. Teach them to question, compare and verify everything. Look for clues to determine the accuracy of information. More about authenticating online information.
- Sexting can occur via cell phones, other mobile devices, or the Web. Find out how to prevent sexting.
Many worthwhile support websites exist that can help kids cope with various problems—such as diabetes, asthma, or mental illness. However, parents should be aware that there are also sites that encourage dangerous behavior or lifestyles. One example that is in the news lately is the many pro-anorexia/pro-eating disorder websites that have sprung up. These sites promote and glorify potentially deadly anorexic and bulimic behaviors as a “lifestyle choice.”
Kids can also get into other harmful “communities” such as white supremacy groups, which actively recruit young people online. Again, stay involved and know the sites your kids are visiting.
You want your teen to start growing more independent. But you still worry about what they're up to online. Talk with them about creating some guidelines for their online behavior. Discuss safety concerns, and anything else that comes up. Together, you can write up a contract that you and your teen both sign, pledging to be safe and responsible online. Read Teen Safety on the Information Superhighway, which is also available in a Spanish PDF version (this may take awhile to load). You and your teenager can visit SafeTeens.com for lots more resources and information.
Teens are getting lots of their health information from the Internet. Make sure your kids are getting facts, not fiction. Point them toward KidsHealth.org, which has a teen area with reliable and interesting information on the kinds of things that teens want to know.
- Cool games to share with your kids that teach about online marketing, protecting online privacy, chat room pitfalls, critical thinking about online content, alcohol advertising, and online hate speech. Each game has a recommended age group, from age eight to 14.
- Video and Computer Game Ratings—Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) provides services for rating Web sites and online games, for ensuring online privacy protection, and for reviewing advertising created by the interactive entertainment industry.
Related topics on Your Child :
- Media and Media Literacy
- Video Games
- Managing Television: Tips for Your Family
- Sleep Problems
Written and compiled by Kyla Boyse, RN. Reviewed by faculty and staff at the University of Michigan
Updated August 2011
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