Generally speaking, you shouldn’t have to spy on your kids while they’re online. But creating the proper Internet usage environment requires active participation on your part as a parent, and a lot of parents either don’t take the time or simply don’t know what to do.
There are a lot of options out there for parents from basic settings on web browsers to advanced parental monitoring software.
While a parent certainly has the ultimate say, kids should actually be involved in making the rules covering online use for a couple of reasons. One reason is that, if you treat your kids as being trustworthy and responsible, they will generally try to act that way. Another is that, by involving them in the process, they can learn why certain things can be dangerous and how to recognize those dangerous things.
Simply forbidding your kids from going online will often tempt them into doing just that. Maybe not at your home, but surely at school, the library, or a friend’s house. Even telling them they can’t go to certain types of sites might backfire.
Probably the one thing parents worry about most when it comes to their children and the Internet is their child falling victim to an online sex predator.
There are many horror stories out there about sex predators who found their victims online, so such concern is understandable. Worse, it may be warranted.
Because the Internet allows anyone to be anonymous, allows predators to track down victims with the seemingly most innocent of information, and because children don’t have the experience or judgment to be wary of what are actually strangers, it’s up to parents to give them the tools they need to protect themselves, even if parents also choose to use parental controls or Internet filtering software.
Sure, you could lock your child in her room and never let her on a computer, but even that might not protect her. After all, the Internet can be accessed from practically anywhere, and you don’t even need a computer to do it.
The best way to monitor your kids online is to actually sit with them when they’re online. If you start when they’re young and explain the ins-and-outs of the Internet to them, including the dangers, you may not have to monitor them as they become older because they have chosen to be trustworthy.
Indeed, if you treat your kids as though you trust them, they will more often than not try to be trustworthy so as not to let you down. This is why it’s also a good idea to set up the rules with them, even negotiating on occasion. Yes, you’re their parent so you can set up any rules you want, but don’t you want your kids obeying them? Also be willing to revise the rules as they get older. A 12 year old simply doesn’t need the same rules as a 6 year old.
Since sitting with your kids all the time when they’re online is probably not going to happen, keep the computer hooked to the Internet in a public area where people are around and can see what they’re doing. It’s a lot harder to hide things from your parents and siblings when they’re always around. Kids may argue that they “need” to be able to access the Internet from their bedroom from school, but they don’t. They can save anything they need to a flash drive and take it to the computer in their bedroom.
There is no excuse for inappropriate online conduct. Yes, surfers may come across websites that have what they consider inappropriate content, but that’s not the same thing as inappropriate conduct.
Inappropriate online conduct includes such things as bullying and stalking as well as sex predators and child pornography.
The first thing to always keep in mind is that, if you think your child is in imminent danger, call 911 immediately. Your child’s safety comes first. Don’t assume the problem will clear up by itself. Take prompt action.
Sexual predators and child molesters need to be reported immediately to the police even if you don’t feel your child is in immediate danger. Should your child want to meet an “online friend,” just say no.
Other inappropriate online conduct, while perhaps not an emergency, can be quite serious and should also be reported promptly. Online bullying and harassment, for example, can have serious consequences, particularly with emotionally vulnerable teens.
Internet filtering software was originally designed to protect you and your family from online pornography.
Ten years ago, Internet users would stumble across pornography constantly. There seemed to be no way to avoid it. In fact, had you typed in http://whitehouse.com (instead of .gov) to go to the President’s website, you’d have been taken to a porn site. Same for whitehouse.net, whitehouse.org…well, you get the drift.
As a result, a huge market was ripe for web filtering software to protect themselves from the onslaught of porn. Some folks bought it to protect their kids. Some simply to protect themselves.
But, as with all Internet software that depends on keywords, there were downsides. Superbowl XXX? The poetry of Anne Sexton? Breast cancer? All were blocked by at least some Internet filtering software. Indeed, the University of Kansas Medical Center library installed net filtering software on all their public computers…and users suddenly were unable to get into the library’s own website.
Why? Because it was the Dykes (pronounced “dikes”) Library…not to mention that it was a medical library website, so would have all sorts of “inappropriate” content…and the filtering software they had just paid to have installed blocked the entire website as porn!
Accessing Internet porn accidentally isn’t particularly easy anymore, so if your kid tells you he just stumbled across a porn site, you might want to take that with a grain of salt. On the other hand, you shouldn’t get too upset, either, because such curiosity is normal.
Indeed, discovering that your kid or teen has been checking out porn sites is a good time to sit down with them and explain that porn sites are demeaning to women and don’t provide a realistic view of sex.
The time to be concerned is if your teen begins spending an inordinate amount of time on porn sites. After all, Internet porn addiction can be a real problem and seriously affect your child’s healthy development.
Generally speaking, porn sites are either found by actively searching for it or by going to semi-shady sites that use porn links to help make money. For example, should your kid decide to download a free (but illegal) copy of a computer game by going to a warez site, there’s a good chance that at least some of the links, ads, and banners will go to porn sites.
The Internet can be a dangerous place for your children if they aren’t prepared. Most kids don’t have the experience or judgment to recognize online danger, leaving them vulnerable to both accidental and deliberate assaults on their innocence and worse.
Probably the most important thing you can teach your child about online safety is to never reveal personal information. Not their name, address or phone number.
Not their school, their team, their activities. Nothing that could be used to identify your child…because predators can be very creative.
Keeping personal information private not only means from queries from individuals, but also on forms such as surveys and signup forms. Indeed, your child shouldn’t sign up for anything online without your knowledge and permission.
Children should also understand they must not arrange to meet or talk to any online friend in person, no matter how well they think they “know” them. Certainly not all friends made over the Internet are bad people. Not even close. But parental involvement when meeting strangers is something your child should not just expect, but encourage.
Loving parents always hope that they have given their children enough love, attention, and self-confidence that their children will be safe from inappropriate Internet relationships.
Sometimes children simply become addicted to the Internet itself, while not being in an inappropriate relationship. While this is bad enough, having your child vulnerable to predators is much, much worse.
Here are some of the signs to be aware of. They don’t necessarily mean your child is in an inappropriate Internet relationship, but they are warning signs nonetheless. Read more…
Most teens don’t use email much anymore. They are far more into instant messaging when they’re online and texting via their cell phones. This means that any parent wanting to monitor their teen’s instant messaging activity needs to use software that actually does that.
Sure, a parent could actually block instant messaging, but most parents aren’t going to want to go that far. They want to trust their teens and they know that forbidding something only makes it ‘forbidden fruit’.
Instant messaging is done either via chat rooms or by using special instant messaging software such as Yahoo Messenger or AOL Instant Messenger. Indeed IM software comes with new computers.
All IM clients come with the ability to block unknown users, which means only people on your teen’s contact list can get through. As a parent, you should make sure that setting is enabled.
It’s likely that you, as a parent, have never even heard of P2P networking. On the other hand, you probably have P2P file sharing software on your computer, programs such as Kazaa, Morpheus or BitTorrent.
P2P (or Peer to Peer) software is designed to share files between computers and is most commonly used to download and share songs. In and of itself, it’s harmless. However, there definitely are concerns you, as a parent, should be aware of.
One is simply the legality of the sharing that’s being done. For example, there have been many lawsuits filed against individuals because of illegal downloads of copyrighted material, particularly music and movies. Even if your child is a minor doesn’t mean that you, as their parent, are not legally vulnerable.
There have been thousands of lawsuits and expensive settlements, so make sure you have set strong guidelines with your children about what can and cannot be downloaded.