Before you go to bed at night you lock your doors, perhaps check a few windows, and if you have an alarm system you turn it on to protect your family from potential intruders. There is one more doorway, into the home, that is generally left wide open and unchecked, the Internet, that needs to be secured as well. While you sleep the potential for predators coming into your home is at it’s peak. They could be contacting your children via email, chat rooms, or message boards. Also, your kids could be visiting places you would never allow them to visit or perhaps they are talking to adults about sexual topics thinking it’s just another kid. If they have a web cam or digital camera they may be posting pictures of themselves online. This could be done in the middle of the day, too, if they have a computer in their bedroom or if you allow free unrestricted access to the Internet.
Reading about kids being abused and taken advantage of by people they met on the Internet is becoming all too common. I believe the media is doing a good job of letting us all know the dangers kids face when allowed to have unrestricted access to the Internet. We all know the dangers are real, now it’s time for parents to take appropriate action.
From Internet predators, to easily accessible inappropriate media, parents have a real problem on their hands.
Internet safety should be a high priority for all parents. Dateline, NBC’s, “To Catch a Predator”, series has shown us all that Internet predators will go to great lengths and take enormous risks to “hook-up” with a young child. Many of these predators are intelligent, professional, middle-aged men who have learned how to lure our children into a false sense of security and slowly work their way into their world.
Predators are learning to use other forms of media also. Media like X-box live and cell phones to reach your kids.
Businesses, law enforcement, schools, even our public officials are all getting involved with Internet safety. We are seeing schools getting involved by having Internet safety courses. There are police officers giving seminars and safety experts covering the topic, there are books available and new laws are being passed almost daily. With all the media coverage and new resources becoming available every day parents, in general, are still doing very little about Internet safety in the home. Most parents still do not have software installed to protect their kids and monitor their usage and many parents still allow their kids to have unrestricted Internet access. Many kids have a computer in their bedroom.
This article is a starting point for all parents to use as their guideline on Internet safety.
My hope is to inform parents about Internet safety and change the way the Internet is dealt with in the home. Tell yourself that today or this weekend you WILL begin making changes to secure your internet as well as you secure the front door.
Let’s get started making the virtual door into your home a bit more secure. You may find this hard to believe, but Internet safety can be summed up in 3 words.
Place the computer in an open area (allowing a computer in the bedroom is like giving your kids unrestricted access to a porn shop, and it’s all free. The Internet gives your kids free access to extremely inappropriate media like movies, pictures, music, adult chat rooms, dating sites, adult web cams and much more. These are all readily available at the click of a mouse.)
I know you hear, “Place the computer in an open area” all the time, so, why is it so important?
It keeps your kids honest; it’s difficult to do bad things online if everyone can see the screen too. Also, it’s much easier to monitor their time on the Internet. It’s very difficult to monitor your child’s time online if it’s behind closed doors. Placing the computer where everyone hangs out in the home will also help get the parent more involved and send a clear message to the kids that you are serious about Internet safety.
If this is just not possible, then you are totally dependent on your software. You must be diligent in reviewing logs and keeping up with how the Internet is being used. The better internet safety software packages will send you alerts or daily reports by email. This is a great feature and one you need.
Install monitoringblocking software. See our choice
The software you choose must have a key logger if you want to know what is being said online. Virus protection, spyware blockers, web site blockers will not tell you what is being said to your kids or what they are saying to others, a key logger is a must for this.
The newer generation of monitoringblocking software programs do a very good job at keeping out the day to day garbage and protecting your kids from inappropriate sites that they otherwise would have come across, intentionally or not. Adult sites are getting very clever at grabbing domain names that sound like popular web sites and also creating sites using misspelled names of popular sites.
The blocking software can also be used as a corrective tool. You can block sites on demand if they are misused.
Your monitoring software monitors every web site visited and all keystrokes typed. This, in my opinion, is your life-line to your kids’ safety online. This, will tell you how your kid is behaving online, who they are talking to, and more importantly who is talking to them and what is being said by both parties. If you suspect something is wrong, your Internet logs will tell you right away if your suspicions are warranted. The better programs will make all this very easy, emailing you with reports, so that all you have to do is read your email to see if everything is okay, or not. Every parent should have this software installed on their computer if they have kids online. Top rated programs cost around $100, a small price to pay for peace of mind and possibly much more.
Talk to your kids:
You may think it odd that I would make talking to your kids #3, but by now most kids have heard the dos and don’ts about Internet safety. Also, most have enough common sense to know what not to do. However, we can’t forget these are kids and kids make mistakes, kids can be naïve and they can be tricked and they even, from time to time, have been known to disobey their parents. I know it’s hard to believe, but it happens. Do talk to your kids, tell them not to give out personal information, even if their site is marked private. Tell them to stop conversations that get inappropriate.
Give your kids a way out; what I mean by that is give your child ideas to use for common questions that they will be asked online, like “where do you live?”, “how old are you?”, or “what’s your phone number?”. If they are asked where they live, do they give a false state or their actual state, for their age do they say “I can’t say”, or do they say something else. Realistically, the people they are talking to should already know this information and parents should restrict their kids from talking to anyone that they do not know personally. Of course, this is not easy and friends of friends always seem to make their way into their world. Teach your kids that probing questions like this need to raise a flag with them.
Use this example:
If you were in the mall, and a complete stranger walked up to you and asked how old you were and where you lived would you just give them that information? Of course not. Strangers online are no different than strangers offline. Use caution when you’re dealing with people you don’t know.
Remind them that inappropriate questions such as: “what color are your panties?” or “what is your bra size?” will not be tolerated and then end the conversation immediately. Ask your kids to inform you about inappropriate questions like this. But, we know in the real world, your kids will probably never tell you any of this, mainly because they do not want you to take their Internet away. This is one reason software is so important. You need to know the things you’re not being told, you should know if your child is being propositioned online, or if someone is asking them inappropriate questions or bullying them. Kids do not want to loose their online social life so they will protect it at all cost.
By talking to them and giving them examples of what is not acceptable, hopefully, they will be mature enough to handle the situation and if you are really lucky they may even tell you. If not, and you have software installed, you will find it yourself and then you can take appropriate action. Without software, you are in the dark as to what is being said to them and what they are saying to others.
Know who your kids are online:
What is their persona online, how are they behaving?
Is their language appropriate? Are they the same online as offline?
Also, know your kids screen name and email. Are they appropriate? Some kids use some very inappropriate names that make them a target for online predators andor bullies, or perhaps they are being the bully.
Know your kids online friends:
Who are your kids hanging out with online? What kind of language are they using?
Are your kids associated with someone that has inappropriate media online that could lead a predator to them? Even if you know your child’s friends offline, make sure they are the same friends online. It’s amazing how some people can completely change when they get online.
In case you haven’t noticed yet, involved parents can gain critical insight into their kid’s world by monitoring their Internet usage. It can be a very good parenting tool, especially, if communications ever break down. Also, you get a good idea of who their friends “really” are.
Monitoring logs could also be a life line for a parent who has a child that has disappeared. Internet chat logs could very well give a parent all the information they need to find their child. All of this can sound overwhelming, but, in reality, most of this could be resolved with a simple check of your child’s computer and social networking site.
Let them know you are an involved Internet parent and that you will be watching.
For step-by-step Internet safety recommendations visit TheParentsEdge.com. Use the “7 steps to a safer Internet” guide to help you make your Internet safer for the family.