The Internet can be a powerful educational tool and a way for children to connect with people around the world. With the click of the mouse, children can see sloths in their rainforest habitat, work together with fourth graders in Sweden on a classroom project, or search online encyclopedias, dictionaries and libraries all over the world. Yet it can also bring them into close contact with inappropriate images and information and can be a potential source of exploitation. Here are some suggestions that you can use to help make sure your child’s journey through cyberspace is enriching and safe:
Develop some family rules on computer and Internet use and post them in a visible place. These might include such reminders as: the time of day and length of time your children can use the computer; not to give out personal information (such as home address, telephone number, parent’s work address or telephone number, the name and location of school, or photographs) without parental permission; not to respond to e-mail from strangers; to never agree to get together with someone met online; to tell parents right away about information that makes your child feel uncomfortable; not to download anything from an unknown person.
Look into blocking software or filters. All of the major online services provide programs that parents can use to limit their children’s access to information on the Internet. Also available is web-filtering software that blocks access to sites that contain language or content that the user designates as off-limits.
Place the computer that your children use in a common area of your home.
Be in or around the room where your computer is located when your children are using the Internet alone. This will allow you to provide guidance and to occasionally check on what they are viewing.
Surf the Net along with your children and visit their favorite sites or chat rooms.
Have your children use child-friendly search engines when looking up a topic or doing homework.
Bookmark your children’s favorite websites to provide easy access.
Make sure your children are only exchanging e-mail with people you and they know.
Make sure that your children only use chat areas that you have previewed and supervised.
Be aware of other computers your children may be using. If they are in the homes of friends, talk with their parents about their family rules on computer and Internet use.
Internet accounts should be in the parent’s name with parents having the primary screen name and controlling passwords, blocking and filtering devices.
Children should not complete a profile for a service provider. If using a chat room, children’s screen names should be nondescript so as not to identify them as children.
If you suspect online "stalking" or sexual exploitation, report it to the police. The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (www.missingkids.com) has a system for identifying online predators and child pornographers and provides information to law enforcement investigations.
Internet resources for parents
www.cybersavvy.org The Direct Marketing Association offers information for parents on how to talk to children about protecting their privacy online.
www.getnetwise.com This site is a resource for parents to educate themselves and their children about how to use the Internet safely. It provides information on filtering software and recommends safe sites for children of all ages.
www.icra.org This site of the Internet Content Rating Association contains information and downloads on the content rating system.
Kid-friendly search engines
Some search engines are specifically geared toward kid-friendly material. Others filter out sites that parents would likely consider objectionable or inappropriate for children. A partial list of such search engines includes:
Ask Jeeves Kids www.ajkids.com