Using the Internet

Everybody knows there are risks involved in using the internet. For kids, who don’t necessarily have the best judgment all of the time, the risk is higher. When children are young, it’s easy to keep an eye on their Internet use, but as kids get older they start to want more privacy. While that’s completely natural and understandable, and parents should definitely give their children some space, you should make yourself aware of the dangers of the internet and how you can protect your older kids when they’re using it.

The Risks
The first step in protecting your kids from online dangers is to understand them yourself so that you can talk to your children about these risks and how they can protect themselves. This will also allow you to figure out what the best ways to monitor your children’s internet usage will be.
Here are some of the risks and ways you can protect your children and yourself:

  • Viruses and Hackers: Adults are prone to this one too. An email forward, Internet file downloads and even some websites can contain viruses or files that can allow a hacker to gain remote access to your computer. If you keep any kind of sensitive material on your computer or online, the hacker could easily gain access to it.
    How to combat this: Don’t open email attachments or forwards unless you know the person they’re coming from and are expecting to receive a file from them. If someone you know sends you a file that you’re unsure about, email or call him to check before you open it. Some viruses automatically email themselves to the entire address book of any unsuspecting person who opens them. Make sure that you’ve installed all of the latest security updates for your computer and the software that you use to browse the Internet. Also, try downloading a more secure browser, such as Firefox.
  • Exposure to Inappropriate Material: The Internet is full of material that is inappropriate for children (and sometimes for adults too!). It’s surprisingly easy to accidentally stumble onto material that is illegal, sexually explicit, dangerous, violent, or hateful in nature.
    How to combat this: Talk to your kids about why they shouldn’t look at this kind of material. Try not to be too heavy-handed, or you risk making them even more curious. Find out what search engine your child prefers and make sure that the Safe Search option is turned on (there is usually a "preferences" link on the main page of the search engine). If you wish, there are programs such as Net Nanny that can be installed on your computer, allowing you to password protect certain sites and material.
  • Harassment and Bullying: Thanks to the internet and cell phones, bullying has come off of the playground and entered cyberspace. Harassment can come via email, chat messages, or cell phones.
    How to combat this: If your child has a problem with e-bullying you should deal with it in much the same way you would a physical bully, however, in this situation you have the added advantage of being able to block the user who is harassing your child. Most email and chat clients have a feature that will allow you to block another user’s name or email address. If the harassment is being carried out by cell phone, call your wireless carrier and ask if they can block the number(s) where the harassment is coming from.
  • Physical Molestation: Children may "meet" strangers over the internet and unwittingly provide information or arrange a meeting that could put her safety, or the safety of her family, at risk. Child molesters have used chat rooms, instant messaging and email to pretend to be a child, make friends with children, gain their confidence and then arrange face-to-face meetings.
    How to combat this: Talk to your child about this risk. Make sure they understand that anyone they talk to on the Internet could be misrepresenting who they are. Try to ensure that while you’d prefer she doesn’t, if your child does make a friend over the Internet and wants to arrange a meeting, she will feel comfortable enough to tell you about it so that you can go along to check out the situation and make sure the new internet friend is safe.
  • Legal and Financial: A child could give out credit card or banking information to the wrong site, which could lead to big problems for you.
    How to combat this:Make sure that your child knows never to give out credit card or banking information unless you are with him to make sure that the transaction is secure.

More Tips
You might want to consider placing computers in communal areas of the house instead of in bedrooms. If your child does have a computer in her bedroom, she might be upset about the loss of privacy, but reassure her that you won’t be reading over her shoulder and watching her every moment that she’s on the Internet. You just want to keep an eye on things, make sure that nothing gets out of hand and no rules are broken.

If you have a web cam, you should monitor your child’s usage of the device. Again, your child may feel that he is losing his privacy, but explain to him that you just want to keep him safe. There have been several cases where children have been lured into sending suggestive photos of themselves taken with web cams to child molesters posing as other children. Also, teach children proper "netiquette", meaning they should avoid being mean, rude, or inconsiderate when interacting with others online.