Issue 32 / October - December 2000
Childen's Safety on The Internet
Antony P. O'CONNELL
The Internet is often termed the information highway because it connects countless computers and users all over the world. We use it for so many things: to research various subjects, to communicate with others, to shop online, to entertain ourselves, and so on. The ability to communicate electronically and to gain access primary data sources is an invaluable resource for children, students, families, and teachers.
The Internet is a whole new world for everyone. If your children are not online, they probably will soon be joining the 10 million children already using the Internet.
What Is on the Internet?
Basically, the Internet is a great place for children. The good news is that it offers them educational and rewarding experiences, and that its effective use just might improve their school performance.
There are some disadvantages as well, such as inaccurate information and various inappropriate and uncomfortable information areas. Families and teachers should be aware of this potential problem. Just as parents do not allow their children to wonder alone in unknown territory, they should not allow them to interact on the Internet without parental guidance and supervision.
If parents worry that their children know more about the Internet and computers than they do, they can use this as an opportunity to have their children teach them about the Internet, such as where they like to go and what they like to do. Encourage children to talk about what is good and not-so-good about their Internet experience.
What Are the Risks?
Different Internet tools (e.g., chat, instant messaging, e-mail, news groups, and Web page) offer different kinds of risks and benefits.
Statistically, probably the greatest risk is that children will encounter mean or very unpleasant people in chat areas and news groups. Another risk is that they will spend a lot of time in areas that are not very productive. Other risks might be:
Loss of privacy (legal and financial, password, credit card number and private information)
Getting into online fights
Making threats and breaking the law
Viewing inappropriate material
Getting inaccurate information
Putting people in danger
Getting into drugs, alcohol, tobacco and other dangerous substances
Gambling and other inappropriate behavior.
What Parents Can Do
Keeping children safe on the Internet is everyone's job. Parents must talk with their children about inappropriate behavior and stay in close touch as their children explore the Internet. By taking responsibility for children's online computer use, parents can minimize any potential risks. Here are some suggestions:
Spend time online with your children. Your involvement is the best insurance of your children's safety.
Teach children not to give out personal information (i.e., name, address, school name or address), especially in chat rooms and on bulletin boards.
Share your children's e-mail account and password.
Teach them not to plan a face-to-face meeting with online acquaintances.
Keep the computer in the family area to better monitor their activity.
Spend time online with your children regularly to learn about their interests and activities.
Teach them how to end any uncomfortable or scary online experience by pressing the back key
Establish an atmosphere of trust and understanding by not blaming them for uncomfortable online experiences.
Discuss the difference between advertising and educational or entertaining content. Show your children examples each.
Tell them not to respond to offensive or dangerous e-mail, chat requests, or communications, and to leave if a Web site makes them uncomfortable.
Tell them to show you anything they receive that makes them uncomfortable.
Remember that anything you read online may not be true.
Explain that people in chat rooms are not always who they say they are.
If you become worried that your children in danger, contact the authorities.
Some Safety Tips to Help Children Online
Do not give out personal information (i.e., last name, phone number, credit card number, address, where you go to school, parent's work address/phone number) without your parent's permission.
Tell your parents right away if you come across anything that makes you uncomfortable.
Never send your picture or anything else without first asking your parents.
Never agree to get together with an online friend, without your parent's permission. Meeting such people is usually a really bad idea. How people are in real life can be very different from how they are online. If you decide to do it anyway, be sure that it is in a public place and bring your parents along.
Do not open up e-mails, files, unknown attachments, or Web pages that you get from people that you do not know or trust.
Always follow your family's rules for the Internet
Remember that honesty is the best policy. Not everyone believes this, however, so watch yourself when you are in cyberspace. Remember that since you cannot see or hear the other person, it is for a 40-year-old man to present himself as a 12-year-old girl.
Avoid chat rooms or discussion areas that look sketchy or provocative, and do not let people online trick you into thinking of them as real-life friends if you have never met them in person. Also, avoid online fights, because if you are looking for trouble on the Internet you will find it, and things can get out of hand very quickly.
The Internet, the World Wide Web, the information superhighway, and cyberspace describe the newest and most innovative and exciting learning tool of recent years. Remember that it is not the technology, but how it is used, that makes a difference.
Spending time online with your children is one of the best ways to learn and teach responsibility, good conduct, and values that are important to you. Ask your children to share their favorite Web sites and what they like about them. Work with them to discover Web sites that will help them with their homework, hobbies, and other special interests. Also, teach your children to be wise consumers in cyberspace. Not everything they see or hear may be true. Some sites may be trying to sell them something.
The vast majority of Internet sites are perfectly safe. But like the real world, the virtual world contains sites with sexual, violent, and other content that may not be appropriate for children. Since different families have different standards, it is important that parents establish clear Internet guidelines for their children.
If you have a home computer, several software programs are available to block objectionable Web sites. Even if filters were 100 percent effective, however, this software is no substitute for parental guidance. We strongly recommend that you supervise your children's Internet use, and that you teach them how to make informed choices
CyberAngels, Internet Safety Organization: http://www.cyberangels.org.
Internet Use Survey: http://www.cyberdialogue. com/products/isg/aius/index.html.
Safeguarding Our Children United Mothers: http://www.soc-um.org/.