If you have kids, or know anyone who does, you may have noticed that in this day and age it appears that their world revolves around social networking sites like Facebook and My Space. Instant messaging on computers and text messaging on cell phones seem to have consumed the lives of our younger generation. Technology is moving at the speed of light, and internet access has become easily accessible in most of our kids lives. Computer and internet technology are great things, but, if not closely supervised, they can be very dangerous and sometimes fatal for our kids. Parents should be very aware of things like cyber bullying and the cruel reality of sexual predators that frequent chat rooms and pretend to be someone theyre not. I am the parent of two teenagers, and have done a little bit of homework on this subject. I would like to share some tips with you, and discuss three of the most important things that I feel every parent can, and should, do to ensure their childs safety and well-being associated with the use of the internet.
I feel that the most important thing a parent can do to protect their child from harmful activity on the internet is to get involved. Know what sites your kids are going to. Surf the web with them and teach them how to be good digital citizens. By this I mean you should help them understand that they should not share personal pictures or information about themselves or anyone else that could be harmful or embarrassing. Remember, once you post a picture, a video, an email, or a comment on the internet, it can be copied and pasted elsewhere, and sometimes can never be recovered. Help them understand that great harm can come from cyber bullying. A tragic example of this is demonstrated by the fact that, in Missouri in the summer of 2006, 47 year old Lori Drew created an alias account (Josh Evans) on My Space and bullied 13 year old Megan Meier, to the point of suicide. Drew harassed Meier in internet communications, and convinced her that the world would be better off without her. Tragically, Meiers mother found her daughter in her bedroom closet, where she had hung herself.
Getting involved with our kids and their internet habits is at the top of my list. For me its no different than knowing where your kids are, who they are hanging out with, what theyre doing, what movies they are watching on TV, etc. If you think your child is in danger you can visit http://kids.getnetwise.org/ for detailed information on what you can do. If you know of a child that is in immediate risk of danger, you should report instances of online child exploitation to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's Cyber Tipline. Reports may be made 24-hours a day, 7 days per week at www.cybertipline.com or by calling 1-800-843-5678.
My second piece of advice is to have your home computer in a central location that can be seen by all members of the family. I think this, combined with the first tip, could have prevented the suicide of Megan Meier. My home computer is in a location where anyone in the kitchen or living room can see the screen at all times. I am just like most parents who believe that our kids would never go to porn sites, but I would rather not take the chance. Kids are human, and humans are curious. I think it is better to be safe than sorry, and I can guarantee you that Megans mother is very sorry. Why take the chance when you dont have to? Allowing a teenager access to a computer in their bedroom without any supervision or parental restrictions is a recipe for trouble.
Speaking of supervision and parental restrictions, my third piece of advice is to harden your computer. There is third party software available that can assist in keeping your kids from accessing porn sites. Some examples are Net Nanny Parental Controls, Safe Eyes, and CYBERsitter. I know what youre thinking. My child would never visit a site like that! I feel the same way about my kids. But again, why take the chance? Here is a link from TopTenREVIEWS, which lists some of the best internet filter software of 2011.
Create a separate user account for your kids and restrict what they can and cant do. Check to see if your internet service provider has tools that can monitor the amount of time your child spends online, or can limit the people who can contact them. Make sure you have some type of pop up blocker enabled on your computer.
Internet safety nets for our kids not only address the possibility of harm, but can also limit what our kids can access on the internet. There are many other things that can be done to help protect your kids and I could easily turn this into a 20-page article. My purpose of writing this article is to remind all parents of the dangers out there and to encourage you to do your own research to protect your kids. I found my top three tips on the following link, and think it is a good place to start your own research on how to protect your children from the possible dangers associated with internet use.
Here is a link to compare internet filter software: http://internet-filter-review.toptenreviews.com/
Here is another great article on online safety for kids written by Neadom a few months ago.