Allowing children to go online without any supervision or ground rules is like allowing them to explore a major metropolitan area by themselves. The Internet, like a city, offers an enormous array of entertainment and educational resources, but it also presents some risks. Consequently, children need help navigating this world.
This is why it is important to educate your children and to teach them how to better protect themselves. The best way to help protect your children is by being involved and talking to them. Additional guidelines for parents to better help them protect their children while they are online are listed below, as well as some tips for children.
Children's Pledge for Online Safety
- I will not give out personal information such as my address, telephone number, parents' work address/telephone number, or the name and location of my school without my parents' permission.
- I will tell my parents right away if I come across any information that makes me feel uncomfortable.
- I will never agree to get together with someone I "meet" online without first checking with my parents. If my parents agree to the meeting, I will be sure that it is in a public place and bring my mother or father along.
- I will never send a person my picture or anything else without first checking with my parents.
- I will not respond to any messages that are mean or in any way make me feel uncomfortable. It is not my fault if I get a message like that. If I do, I will tell my parents right away so that they can contact the service provider.
- I will talk with my parents so that we can set up rules for going online. We will decide upon the time of day that I can be online, the length of time I can be online, and appropriate areas for me to visit online. I will not access other areas or break these rules without their permission.
- I will not give out my Internet password to anyone (even my best friends) other than my parents.
- I will check with my parents before downloading or installing software or doing anything that could possibly hurt our computer or jeopardize my family's privacy.
- I will be a good online citizen and not do anything that hurts other people or is against the law.
- I will help my parents understand how to have fun and learn things online and teach them things about the Internet, computers, and other technology.
Guidelines for Parents
- Prepare your children for the online world just as you would for the real world. Therefore, establish guidelines and rules for them to use the computer, and know who communicates with your children while they are online.
- Learn about the Internet. Familiarize yourself with the programs your children are using. Ask your teens to show you what's cool. Have them show you great places for teens and fill you in on areas that you might benefit from as well. Make this one area where you get to be the student and your child gets to be the teacher.
- Place the family's computer in a common room, where supervision and guidelines are more easily observed and met.
- Talk about the benefits and dangers on the Internet and help your children make smart decisions while online. This is just as important as limiting your children's computer time when it comes to safeguarding them while online.
- Explain to your children instant messaging (IM) is only for chatting with school and family friends they know by face and are approved by you. Go over your children's IM "chat list" with them. Make sure they are able to put a face to every screen name on the list.
- Check out blocking, filtering, and ratings applications. There are now services that rate web sites for content, as well as filtering programs and browsers that empower parents to block the types of sites they consider to be inappropriate. Generally, these programs can be configured by the parent to only block the types of sites that the parent considers to be objectionable.
Risks by Area
The Web gives you the opportunity to read newspapers, tour museums, check out libraries, visit distant lands, play games, shop, or do research to help you with your homework.
Caution: If a website asks you for information about yourself, i.e., your name, your mailing address, your e-mail address, etc., before letting you enter a site, do not enter this information without first checking with your parents.
Chat rooms let you engage in a live conversation with people around the block or around the world. It's like being on a party line, only you type instead of talk. Everyone in the "chat room" can see everything you type. However, did you know that the chat room is probably the most dangerous area on the Internet? Even if the room is "teens only," you have no way of knowing if everyone really is a teenager, so you still have to be on guard. As with other areas of the Internet, you don't know who is there, so never say anything in a chat room that you wouldn't say in public.
Caution: It can be tempting to get together with someone you meet in a chat room, but remember-people are not always who they seem to be. Therefore, never give out personal information, and never arrange a face-to-face meeting with someone you meet in a chat room without first checking with your parents.
Instant Messaging (IM) has become extremely popular among teenagers. It's a way to stay in touch with friends without having to wait for them to respond to an e-mail. You type a message and the moment you click "send" that message appears on another person's screen wherever they happen to be. You can exchange instant messages on computers and cell phones or between computers and cell phones or any other Internet connected devices.
Caution: Be sure you know who you are "IMing" with, and be aware that anything you type could be forwarded to other people. There is no way to "take back" something once you enter it. Be especially careful about using video or digital cameras during an IM session. You don't have to respond to any messages that are rude, annoying, or make you feel uncomfortable.
E-mail is typically a one-to-one communications system. Just like regular mail, you write to someone and they can write back. However, if you ever receive an e-mail message that appears to be illegal in nature, you should report it to Cyber Tipline at http://www.cybertipline.com/ or call 1-800-843-5678. Illegal material includes threats to your life or safety, threats to others, pornographic images of children, and evidence of other crimes.
Caution: Be careful how you respond to e-mail from people you don't know. Never send a photograph of yourself or any personal information to someone you don't know. Also, e-mail can easily be copied and forwarded to others. So, if you do send personal information to friends, be sure that they are willing to respect your privacy.