From communicating with friends and family across the globe to researching just about anything, the Internet has countless benefits. The downsides of cyberspace are also well known. The reality that predators use the Internet to target their victims is especially frightening. As if the normal concerns of parenting weren’t enough, the Internet gives 21st Century parents one more thing to worry about. Complicating the issue is the fact that many children know more about computers than their parents. So, how do parents keep kids safe online?
The answer, experts say, is not to forbid kids from getting online but to establish rules and guide them in being safe Internet users. Children as young as grade school are sometimes asked to get online for class assignments, making it essential for parents to discuss appropriate Internet use with children early on. The website www.wiredkids.org provides some great advice to help children have “an educational and safe Internet experience.”
Here are some useful tips for parents of children 12 and under (parents of older children may want to adjust some of these rules).
1) Search with kids. The Internet can be daunting for adults, so a kid can really get lost in the sea of information, and that can lead to danger. Parents should oversee Internet searches, helping kids select appropriate sites. When conducting a search, a good place to start is at a kid-friendly search engine like Yahoo’s Yahooligans!, which filters out inappropriate content.
2) For school assignments, visit well-known reputable websites like www.ohs.org, the website of the Oregon Historical Society, www.discovery.com, www.nationalgeographic.org, www.pbskids.org or websites recommended by a school librarian.
3) Have a computer in a shared space in the home, such as the family room, kitchen, or office.
4) Limit Internet use and make sure there is a purpose for being online, which will cut down on the possibility of surfing.
5) Don’t allow children to have online profiles, which give people access to personal information about them. While Facebook prohibits people under the age of 13 from having accounts, not all social networking sites have this guideline.
6) There should be no reason for a young child to need his or her own email address.
7) Experts strongly discourage the use of chat rooms, which provide an opportunity for strangers to prey on children.
8) Utilize software designed to help protect children, such as blocking and filtering programs.
For more information on Internet safety, including identity theft and other issues, visit www.wiredkids.org and its sister website www.wiredsafety.org.
### Erika is a writing mom. She lives in Milwaukie and teaches writing and communication courses at the University of Portland.