The Internet is a wonderful tool, and a great form of entertainment. But for children, it can be a dangerous place. Even seemingly innocuous web sites have become the hunting grounds for predators. Parents need to be aware not only of what their children are doing online, but also of what others are doing. Here are some internet safety tips if your children "surf the net" now, or will in the future.
- Know what your children are doing online. What sites do they frequent? What are their activities? Kids enjoy participating in chat room discussions, instant messaging each other, emailing, and keeping online journals or diaries known as "blogs." All of these are harmless activities if you are certain of who is on the other end of that connection. Your children may believe that they are "chatting" with other kids, but predators hide behind electronic anonymity, posing as children. In so doing, they are able to surreptitiously obtain personal information such as your child's full name, address, school or outside activities. Underage children have even been tricked into sharing photos or webcam images of themselves in various states of undress, results of which are then sold to child pornographers and distributed worldwide. Know what your children are doing online!
- Know what your children's friends are doing online. This is much more difficult. Even if you are dutifully monitoring your children's online behavior, their friends could be sharing information about them. Again, completely innocently, their friends may mention your children by name, school, sports team or neighborhood. This information, which often seems harmless to the kids, can leave your children vulnerable to online predators. Since you probably cannot be at your kids' friends' houses, you ought to ask your kids, their friends, and their friends' parents about the activity of your child's peers. You may even want to educate the other parents involved. Perhaps you can even form a network of parents that monitor their kids, benefiting the whole community.
- Be internet savvy. You are looking for sites where people share with each other. Your child could post on My Space (myspace.com) or another large online "community" where people of all ages share information and experiences. Look for blogs on places like Blogger (blogger.com), Word Press (wordpress.com), or Live Journal (livejournal.com). Pay attention to innocent-looking online gaming communities or role-playing games (RPG). Use your computer's "history" feature to see what sites have been visited, and use a search engine tool like Google to perform a search for your child's name. You may be surprised by what you find.
- Be proactive. Educate yourself and your children. Learn and teach Internet safety, and stay on top of what is happening in cyberspace. There are many good online resources to aid you. Here are a few:
Check your local community schools and PTA/PTO to see if training is offered in your town. Often the FBI will run educational programs in this manner.