Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Internet Safety I (common sense tactics)

Keeping your children safe in when they use the internet is an important, and often ignored parental responsibility.
In a tech-driven society, our children have the opportunity to be exposed to many things that are not only inappropriate, but are things that thirty years ago, people would have had to search long and hard to find. Hate websites, porn sites, sexual predators, and other content that promote adult and/or negative themes can fall into an unsuspecting child's lap with the click of a mouse.

What can parents do to protect their children from inappropriate internet content?

First, know what is out there. The internet has a lot to offer. Children can, with a few seconds of navigating, travel to distant countries, learn about other cultures, visit sites that promote education, travel, intellectual thinking, family values, cartooning, movies, math practice, and the ever popular games. They can keep in touch with family members, visit potential college choices, trade photos with friends, and visit the site of their favorite sports team, or their favorite sports drink, for that matter.
There are a lot of sites created specifically for children, for educational and entertainment purposes.
However, one wrong click and a child can be transported into a world that is not only unsavory, but unsafe.
I did a quick Google search on anorexia nervosa, which any high school child could research for a class, to help a friend, or learn about out of curiosity. Using the keyword "anorexia," the fifth most popular site on google was a pro-anorexia site, which supports disordered eating, unhealthy thinness, and a desire to get as thin as possible. Websites run by mentally ill people who promote a community of other mentally ill people who do not want to get well are not sites most parents want their children to visit, as children are not often able to discern right from wrong in abstract areas.

Second, don't allow children to use the Internet in private rooms, including a separate office or study. All Internet use should be in a common, supervised area of the home. If kids want to do homework on their computers, in their rooms, give them an unconnected system.

Third, use the Internet with your children. You can visit sites you like together, teach them how to spot certain types of sites that you don't want them on, and help them avoid clicking on advertisements that look like games.
Watching a goofy YouTube video together can set the stage for a casual talk about videos they should stay away from.

Also, learn how to check your browser history. You can see all the websites that have been visited on your computer.

Last, consider disable your internet access when you are not home. Kids who are old enough to stay home alone, need to be protected just as much as younger children do.

Future blogs on this subject will include using parental controls, and reviews of a variety of internet filters.