How To Keep the Internet Safe, Educational and Fun

By Jim Burns, Ph.D. January 1, 2003

computerThe Internet is here to stay—and it will continue to gain an increasing role in your children’s life experience. The following are some practical tips for parents on how to keep your family’s interaction with the Internet a safe and positive experience.

Educate yourself and your kids about the Internet. Learn about the Internet, how to search for information, link to related sites and more. Share your knowledge with your children and develop common surfing interests with them.

Select an Internet Service Provider (ISP) that offers server-based filtering (filtering at the ISP’s location). If that is not available in your area, select a commercial service with parental controls. Always keep the phone number of your ISP on hand in the event your connection goes down.

Purchase over-the-counter or downloadable blocking software. If your ISP does not automatically filter out selected content, many good programs can be purchased or downloaded directly to your computer.

Set ground rules with your family and post them near the computer. Before children surf, they should be given clear guidelines on what is acceptable Internet activity, i.e. what to visit, who they are allowed to contact and how long they are permitted to stay online. Parents and caretakers must set and enforce rules. The most effective way adults can shape a child’s Internet behavior is to engage them in focused, research-driven projects and supervise their projects.

Avoid sites that ask for personal information. Many Internet sites ask for personal information that may be shared publicly without your knowledge. Don’t allow your child to frequent chat rooms with adult-oriented discussions or give out his or her name, address, or other personal information on the Internet.

Report suggestive messages. Never respond to messages or bulletin board items that are suggestive, obscene, belligerent, threatening, or make you feel uncomfortable. Encourage your children to tell you if they encounter such messages. If you or your child receives a message that is harassing or of a sexual nature, or threatening, identify the source of the message and notify your local police. It’s also important to forward a copy of the message to your ISP and ask for its assistance in preventing future incidents.

Recognize that your home is not the only place your child is accessing the Internet. Internet use at friends’ houses, at the library, in school and after-school care, or camp settings may not afford necessary and appropriate safeguards. Talk to the adults who supervise these settings and find out what filtering safeguards they employ. Many technologically savvy kids are setting up Websites, some with slanderous content, on school and library computers without the knowledge of the adults who supervise these settings.

Remind your children that not everything they read online need be true. Teach your kids to be discerning information seekers. Any offer that “sounds too good to be true” probably is. Children should be taught to differentiate between advertisements and other content. They must learn that just because information is posted on the Internet, does not make in valid, reliable or true.

Understand the dangers of entering chat rooms. Once a user enters a chat room, he or she can immediately start receiving correspondence, even if they don’t initiate it. This is where cyberstalking begins, and it often ends in violent crimes against unsuspecting or overly trusting victims. For example, someone indicating that “she” is a 12-year-old girl could in reality be a 40-year-old man. Notify the police of anyone you don’t know who attempts to set up visits or meetings with your child.

Child pornography is a crime. Any pornographic depiction of a child is a crime. Should you become aware of the transmission, use, or viewing of child pornography, immediately report it to your local police. You should also notify your ISP immediately.

Look for the “good stuff” on the Internet. There is a wealth of good, clean and educational information on the Internet.

Encourage the safe use of e-mail between your kids and their friends and family members, giving them less reason to communicate with someone they don’t know.

Make the use of the Internet a family activity. Keep the computer in a family room rather than in the child’s bedroom, and be an active observer as your child spends time on the ‘Net.

(Excerpted from the “Massachusetts Family Guide to Internet Safety” a publication of the Massachusetts Family Institute.)  ©Copyright HomeWord 2003, 800-397-9725