By Julie Marsh
With all the focus on the social networking site Facebook lately -- in terms of their deletion of breastfeeding photos, tacit approval of pro-ana groups (and other truly objectionable content), and their inaction regarding multiple instances of sexual advances toward minors -- it's a good opportunity to talk about keeping kids safe online.
The US Computer Emergency Readiness Team (CERT), part of the US Department of Homeland Security, addresses children's online safety:
"When a child is using your computer, normal safeguards and security practices may not be sufficient. Children present additional challenges because of their natural characteristics: innocence, curiosity, desire for independence, and fear of punishment."
These same natural characteristics make children, including teens, more likely to take risks in other areas -- such as while driving or dating or out with friends. But given the increased prevalence of social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace, as well as the continued use of email, instant messaging and chat rooms -- plus the rising number of sites geared toward children as young as preschool -- it's clear that today's parents have many more concerns than in the past. Gone are the days when it was enough to tell your six year-old not to get in a car with someone they don't know; now parents must tell their children about the risks of chatting online with someone they don't know.
The CERT offers guidance for parents whose children use computers - whether at home, at school, at the public library, or at a friend's house. Some of the highlights include:
- Keep your computer in an open area - If your computer is in a high-traffic area, you will be able to easily monitor the computer activity. Not only does this accessibility deter a child from doing something she knows she's not allowed to do, it also gives you the opportunity to intervene if you notice a behavior that could have negative consequences.
- Set rules and warn about dangers - Make sure your child knows the boundaries of what she is allowed to do on the computer. These boundaries should be appropriate for the child's age, knowledge, and maturity, but they may include rules about how long she is allowed to be on the computer, what sites she is allowed to visit, what software programs she can use, and what tasks or activities she is allowed to do. You should also talk to children about the dangers of the internet so that they recognize suspicious behavior or activity. The goal isn't to scare them, it's to make them more aware.
- Monitor computer activity - Be aware of what your child is doing on the computer, including which web sites she is visiting. If she is using email, instant messaging, or chat rooms, try to get a sense of who she is corresponding with and whether she actually knows them.
- Keep lines of communication open - Let your child know that she can approach you with any questions or concerns about behaviors or problems she may have encountered on the computer.
- Consider implementing parental controls - You may be able to set some parental controls within your browser.
There are other resources you can use to control and/or monitor your child's online activity. Some ISPs offer services designed to protect children online. Contact your ISP to see if any of these services are available. There are also special software programs you can install on your computer. Different programs offer different features and capabilities, so you can find one that best suits your needs.
As I see it, the key point above pertains to the lines of communication. If you and your child have an ongoing dialogue where it comes to the natural questions kids have, they'll be much more likely to tell you about what they see and hear and do online. Not all computer-related risks involve interaction with strangers; sites that promote harmful behaviors or include objectionable content (however you might define "objectionable" -- be it sexually explicit material, hate-speech, or simply content outside the scope of what you want your child to view) are a cause for concern as well. It's important for your child to feel that it's not only safe, but important too, to ask you questions without fear of retribution for their curiosity.
Likewise, parents are responsible for educating themselves about online risks and how to best protect their children (and teach them to protect themselves). While many of us consider ourselves to be relatively technologically savvy, the Internet and other forms of digital media continue to evolve, and it's our children who will be the early adopters. In order to protect them, we need to stay up-to-date too. While technology itself, such as parental controls, can aid in this risk management, they aren't a substitute for parental involvement.
Just as when we were kids and our parents insisted on meeting our friends and their parents before allowing us to sleep over, we now have to do the same - and much more. It's for our own good, and theirs too.
All original content © 2002 - 2013 Imperfect Parent®. Imperfect Parent and Mominatrix are registered trademarks.
The views, opinions and information expressed in articles and blog posts published on imperfectparent.com and all subdomains are those of the authors alone. They do not represent the views or opinions of The Imperfect Parent or its staff, nor do they represent the views or opinions of any entity of, or affiliated with, Imperfect Parent. The Imperfect Parent is designed for entertainment purposes only and is not meant to be a substitute for medical, health, legal, or financial advice from a professional.
Reproduction of material from any of Imperfect Parent's pages without written permission is strictly prohibited.