Editor’s notesby Rachelle Lipschultz
The internet is a wonderful technological tool. We can communicate with distant friends and loved ones, make new acquaintances, “visit” foreign countries and even other planets, and much more. At the same time, the internet carries with it a host of serious risks for children. In this issue of the e-zine, we’ll explore those risks and discuss steps that parents can take to protect children from them.
Spring Courses and Events
The semester has started, and with it comes a new round of classes, Brown Bag Lunches, workshops, and other Family Outreach Network events. Be sure to check out our spring schedule for full details. We hope to see you soon!
INTERNET SAFETYTypes of risks
When most parents think of the risks associated with the internet, they picture children being lured away by strangers. While this is a definite risk, it is by no means the only one. Here are some of the others:
Steps to avoid risks
- Illegal activities: Children may engage in online gambling or downloading files which are illegal to access. If your children do engage in these activities, both you and they may be criminally prosecuted.
- Inappropriate material: One of the great things about the internet is that it is in the public domain—anybody can post anything they want. That has its advantages, but it also means that there is a lot of online material that you may not want your kids to see. Pornography is the obvious example here, but there are others as well. Hate sites promote intolerance and even violence, while other sites (such as the disturbing "Forgive Me Ana") promote anorexia as a “lifestyle choice.”
- Infection of your computer with spyware and viruses: Some of these programs may slow down or destroy your computer. Others record your every keystroke—including passwords, credit card numbers, and other information which can make you vulnerable to identity theft.
So what can you do to avoid these risks? Obviously much will depend on your child’s age and maturity. The tips below are appropriate for a wide range of ages; you can just adapt them as necessary.
- Use a child-friendly browser or other software to filter and/or limit content. The filters aren’t perfect (for example, legitimate sites about breast cancer awareness might be blocked because of their use of the word “breast”) but almost all will allow you to modify the permissions as you see fit.
- Keep the computer in a public room, not in your child’s bedroom.
- Carefully and regularly monitor your kids’ computer usage. On the one hand, you don’t want to unnecessarily invade your children’s privacy—you probably don’t listen in on their phone calls, do you? On the other hand, the internet contains risks that telephone communications don’t, because it is extremely unlikely that your kids will meet new friends over the phone or receive calls from random strangers. Monitoring their choice of web sites is no different from monitoring their choice of books or TV shows. There are a number of programs such as Net Nanny which will allow you to see which sites your kids are visiting and how long they are spending at each one.
- Stress the importance of not giving out personal information. This often happens when people fill out forms on web sites, but personal information can also be disclosed in other ways, such as in response to an innocent-sounding question in a chat room. When setting up email addresses or user IDs, make sure not to include any personal information, such as your child’s name, birthday, school, or hometown.
- Talk to your kids about how easy it is for people to lie online. Just because someone says she’s a 10-year-old girl doesn’t mean she actually is one. There’s nothing wrong with meeting people online, but they should be cautious in doing so.
- Your child met someone online, and wants to meet the new friend in person. Now what? Remember, most “kids” online are exactly who they say they are. Don’t assume that this new friend is automatically lying. Just use your common sense. Talk to the friend (and her parents, if possible) on the phone, and bring your child to meet her in a public place.
- Be alert to warning signs. Is your child unwilling to discuss his online activities? Is your child discussing topics that you feel are inappropriate? If so, you need to have a serious talk and possibly limit/monitor usage more closely.
- Invest in virus protection and firewall software. These two programs are a must for any internet user—failing to do so is an open invitation to all hackers and thieves. Two of the most popular programs are McAfee and Norton, but you can also find listings of free programs at PC Magazine.
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