Children and Internet Safety
As a parent, you are always trying to protect your children, whether it be from cleaning chemicals inside the home or traffic outside the home. The advent of the Internet has created another atmosphere where safety must be your priority. Preventative measures can promote safety online, whether your daughter loves to chat on Facebook or your son is an active blogger.
Honest communication with your child will allow her to come to you if she’s uncomfortable, even if she feels like she may be at fault for breaking a rule. For example, you should know all the accounts and passwords that your daughter keeps so you can log in and view the content she is sending and receiving. Limit the amount of time she spends online with a timed system or software, and encourage her to only communicate with existing friends.
Blogging can be a healthy creative outlet, a sort of digital journal. However, it can become dangerous when your child reveals too much information to predatory readers. Discuss your child’s blog with her. Let her know that she should not publicly post anything on her weblog that she would not share with everyone she knows. Know the website address and read it frequently. If your are technically-inclined, you can even create a blog and give your child access to write and save posts but you retain the administrative privileges to edit and publish the post to the Internet.
Social networks make it easy to “friend” someone whom your child does not actually know. Like a blog, social networks can allow anyone to contact your child or view what he is posting online. When you decide that he is ready for a social networking account, set it up with him and customize the settings on Facebook or Twitter so that only friends can send messages and view identifying information. Periodically check his friends list and posted videos or photos; discuss and remove any inappropriate content. If you find that your child has changed the password or tried to block you from viewing a profile, consider a keylogging program. This will track all the text typed on your computer.
Unfortunately, cyber-bullying has been in the news in recent years. It has even led to death by suicide for some young Internet users. Encourage open discussion with your child so that he feels comfortable discussing bullying and other sensitive issues with him. Make sure there are other trusted adults, such as a doctor or teacher, with whom your son can confide if he does not feel comfortable talking with you. When you do discover cyber-bullying, remind your son or daughter not to respond to such messages. Calmly present the issue to your child’s school, if applicable, and the other child’s parents. If the bully is a stranger, increase the security on your child’s accounts and block the offending messages.
Safety of your computer, and not just your child, may also be of concern. Install a reputable anti-virus program to your computer that scans incoming files and traffic in real time. Schedule a weekly scan to check the health of your computer. Warn your daughter not to open any links from unknown strangers because they may contain viruses or other malicious software. Teach her to hover over any links to determine if the URL points to the link text or if it could lead to a malicious website.