Exposure to inappropriate materials and harassment are only a few of the safety issues parents must be aware of today when they have children who are using the Internet. Child safety on the Internet has become an ever-increasing problem facing parents, students, teachers, and administrators. Adults have a responsibility to provide our children with access to various types of learning experiences through hands-on experience. Using the Internet has and/or will continue to become a very vital part of our children's day to day lives. In providing access to this resource, we must also provide guidance and guidelines for the various hazards that can be encountered when using this medium.
Most people who use online services have mainly positive experiences. The online world, like the rest of society, is made up of a wide array of people. Most are decent and respectful, but some may be rude, obnoxious, insulting or even mean and exploitative.
Children and teenagers get a lot of benefit from being online, but they can also be targets of crime and exploitation in this as in any other environment. Trusting, curious, and anxious to explore this new world and the relationships it brings, children and teenagers need parental supervision and common sense advice on how to be sure that their experiences in "cyberspace" are happy, healthy, and productive.
As members of this vast new electronic community, you and your family must ask yourselves how you will contribute to make it a safer environment for all users.
Guidelines for Parents
It is important that you as a parent assume responsibility for your child's online computer use, at home, at school, or in the library. Part of your family rules may be:
- The best way to assure that your children are having a positive online experience is to stay in touch with what they are doing.
- Spend time with them when they are online.
- Keep the computer in a central location, such as the kitchen or family room, rather than in a child's bedroom. This way, everyone in the family has access to it.
- Check the screen periodically and let your children know that you are interested in what they are learning online.
- Explore the wide range of information that is available and discuss with them which topics you consider off-limits.
- Ask your children where they go online, and have them show you.
- If your children are more familiar with the Internet than you are, let them teach you about it, you will both enjoy the lesson!
- Use filtering software to screen out adult sites on the Web.
- Make sure your children are aware of online rules. They should know never to give out their real name, age, school name, address and/or telephone number to strangers, or agree to meet with someone person to person without your approval. Post these online rules by the computer.
- Neither you nor your children should respond to messages or bulletin board items that are suggestive, obscene, belligerent, threatening or make you feel uncomfortable. Encourage your child to inform you of any such messages and, if you or your child receives a message that is harassing, of a sexual nature, or threatening, forward a copy to your service provider and ask for their assistance.
- Everyone should remember that people online may not be who they say they are. Everything you read may not be true.
- Make computer use a family activity. Get to know your child's online friends as well as their other friends.
- Monitor online time. Excessive use of online services, especially late at night, may signal a potential problem. The same parenting skills that apply to the "real world" also apply while online.
- Support and encourage your child's use of the Internet, and participate in new learning experiences. Acquaint yourself with their online pals and email habits. Be aware of correspondence with strangers.
- Keep the lines of communication open so that you can talk to your children, and they will recognize your interest in what they are doing is genuine.
What Are the Risks?
There are a few risks for children who use online services. Teenagers are more at risk because they often use the computer unsupervised and because they are more likely than younger children to participate in online discussions regarding companionship, relationships, or sexual activity. Some risks are:
Exposure to Inappropriate Material: A child may be exposed to inappropriate material of a sexual or violent nature. If you or your child becomes aware of the transmission of child pornography, report it to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-843-5678. Also, contact you internet service provider.
Physical Molestation: While online, a child might provide information or arrange an encounter that could risk his or her safety or the safety of other family members. In a few cases, pedophiles have used online services and bulletin boards to gain a child's confidence and then arrange a face- to-face meeting.
Harassment: A child might encounter E-mail or bulletin board messages that are harassing, demeaning, or belligerent. Parents should use the parental controls available on the commercial online services. These services screen public content and provide online hosts to monitor chat rooms.