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Internet Safety
Advice for Parents
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The Internet is a wonderful resource that connects children and helps them to discover and create their own work. It provides a valuable opportunity for children to be linked to the whole world both at home and in the classroom. Interactive technologies can inspire and excite, useful information can be found online and children can be put in direct touch with each other.

However, being connected to the world also means that children are exposed to the dangers of the world and the places that aren't safe. Whilst your kids may have impressive technical skills and are possibly quicker than you at finding their way around computers and the net, it is your responsibility to teach them the life-skills they need to navigate the Internet safely. If children are to experience the best of the net, it is important that they understand the online safety issues and know how to respond to the potential dangers.

What are the dangers on the Internet for kids and teens?

Like a big city, the Internet poses risks associated with content, contact and commerce.

Content

  • Pornography is easily accessible on the Internet and is often openly legal in the country where it originates. Good filtering packages can help to block access to pornographic websites but they are never 100% effective. Internet safety tools include filters to block sexually explicit material, monitors to check online activity and browsers designed especially for kids to use. However, it is important to keep the computer in a family room and not rely on filtering software as a substitute for parental involvement. Also, be aware that some children know how to get around filtering packages!
  • Racist and hate group sites can often appear innocuous at a first glance but advocate bigotry or intolerance. Whilst filtering tools can block access to these sites, educational sites such as history sites about the holocaust may also be blocked. Different software companies limit access to different types of material promoting discrimination or hatred, but once again, there is no substitute for parental involvement.
  • Site owners may attempt to drive traffic to their site by registering URLs that are only slightly different from those of popular sites. It is very easy for children to access these imitative sites by mistake when typing in website addresses. Avoid this risk by encouraging your children to store sites they use regularly in a 'favorites' folder or bookmarks.
  • Inaccurate information on the Internet could have serious consequences if your children follow bad advice on health or personal safety. Show children how to check out sites by looking for information on the source of online material. Details of the author and the inclusion of references are often a good indication of reliability. Other tips include checking for out of date information by looking for when the site was last updated and searching for who is linked to the site as evidence of third party endorsement. As with any research, review other sources to get a feel for commonly accepted opinion/fact.
  • Viruses and sexually explicit material may be sent as attachments in e-mails. Make sure your children know that they should never open files from people they don't know. They should also never click on any links in spam e-mails, even if they say 'unsubscribe'. Replying to spam or junk e-mails may mean that you end up with even more in your mailbox!
  • Web sites may try to install software on your computer ... so-called drive-by downloads. Never click "Yes" if a website asks to install/run an executable unless you are absolutely sure it is legit.

Contact

  • Whilst adults may think of the Internet primarily as an information or e-mailing resource, kids and teens tend to be huge users of interactive services on the net. These applications allow people who are online to be in touch with each other in real time. Examples of interactive services include Chat and IM (Instant Messaging). Games often use chat to allow players to interact while teenagers often chat with each other on their mobile phones using SMS (Short Message Service) text messaging. Popular IM products include AOL, Yahoo and MSN. Choose products with parental controls and familiarise yourself with their features and security settings. A good product will include instructions on how to adjust privacy settings and guidelines on the information that will be made public. Don't assume that the default settings will be the best for you and your children!
  • Make sure your children understand that they should never disclose personal information online, for example phone numbers, addresses or school names. They should use a nickname rather than their real name in chatrooms. IM may be unmoderated and used by sexual predators in the grooming process, so the disclosure of private information could leave your child vulnerable to identification.
  • Discuss the importance of using moderated and age-appropriate chatrooms with your children.
  • Take an interest in your children's online friends, just as you do with their friends at school or in the neighborhood. Encourage your children to use the Internet to build on offline activities such as homework or hobbies.
  • Talk to your children about the dangers of meeting someone they've only met online. It is important to realise that online friends may not be who they say they are, and that it is difficult to know who you can trust.
  • Encourage your children to tell you if something makes them feel uncomfortable or worried. They can leave unpleasant situations by logging out or changing their screen name. Report threatening or harassing messages to the chatroom provider and your local law enforcement office.

Commerce

  • Commercialism on the Internet has led to a blurring of content and advertising on many websites. Online forms collect personal information for marketing, often through subtle means such as games, competitions and auctions. It is easy for companies to collect private information from children without their parents' knowledge.
  • Tell your children to be careful about filling in online forms and reinforce that they should never give their personal details to anyone they don't know on the Internet.
  • Computer settings can be changed to increase the privacy level and prevent the computer from accepting 'cookies'.

There are lots of good websites and resources for kids, teens and parents that address online safety issues. One of the best for parents is by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Other sites such as GetNetWise provide reviews of the different Internet monitoring tools that are available. You can find many sites offering downloadable leaflets, booklets and posters for children by going to Kids_and_Teens/Computers/Internet/Safety

   Last update: 2006-10-09
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