Child predators have found an unguarded playground on the Internet. Since it may be years before law enforcement can effectively patrol the millions of Internet highways, protecting children is in the hands of parents and schools. Literally over night, cyberspace has become a street in our town that children can walk down without our knowledge. With a click of a key, they could walk into a striptease joint, an X-rated movie or be charmed by a child predator in a chat room. In the past our children did not usually encounter such options until they had the mental and emotional maturity to cope. The law required they be at least 18 years old to enter these adult establishments. In cyberspace our children are being lured as early as they can use a mouse.
Our first line of defense as parents is to educate ourselves. Our second line of defense is to educate our children. Knowledge is like a lamppost that is put up in a dark alley. The criminals scurry away in fear of detection.
There are easy steps that we as parents can take to learn more about the Web and prevent online dangers: First, begin by increasing your own computer literacy. You might even have your computer savvy child escort you through cyberspace.
Do you know what these symbols mean?
- (( )):**
- Hugs and Kisses
- Returning Kiss
- Dirty Old Man
- I’m Posting Naked
If your child uses email, chat, or forums you’ve likely seen them communicate in what may seem to be a secret foreign language of symbols and acronyms. These symbols, known as emoticons, and acronyms let them express emotion and ideas in chat messages without having to type entire words or phrases.
KNOWLEDGE REPLACES FEAR. Cutting kids off from the Internet won’t work. It is too powerful. It is an exciting and incredible educational resource that you will want for your children. Spend time with them online. Just as you choose when your child first rides a bike and when they will start driving, you will want to be there to guide them through the virtual world.
KEEP COMMUNICATIONS OPEN. Parents who encourage their children to tell them even somewhat embarrassing issues stand a better chance of preventing problems before they occur.
WORK TOGETHER. Children begin at an early age learning how to be independent, so don’t be surprised if they process information first and come to you a few days or even a week later for your input. Remind them that if they encounter someone in a chat room who makes them feel uncomfortable or unsafe, they should tell you.
MONITOR ACTIVITY. Because our children are sitting right in our homes, it doesn’t seem like they could be in danger. Since there is no legal structure that ensures honesty, truth and information that will not corrupt the minds of naive children, do not underestimate what they can encounter. With children under 16, keep the computer in areas where it is easy for you to supervise, or make a point of casually visiting your teen unexpectedly when they are on the Internet.
WATCH THE CLOCK. Limit the time your kids spend on the Internet just as you would for TV and telephone.
WHAT TO TEACH YOUR CHILDREN
- Pick a screen name that will attract the kind of friends you would like. Don’t use a name that is negative, belittling or provocative.
- Only send pictures with your parent’s permission.
- Tell your parents if you encounter inappropriate or offensive messages. Never respond to these messages.
- Never give your passwords to anyone online.
- Don’t tell anyone your exact age; just say you are under 18. Be smart and do not give your name, address, phone number, parent’s work address/phone number or the name or location of your school.
- Do not fill out surveys or register at sites without your parent’s permission.
Parents should watch for these signs:
- If your child is becoming removed from the family.
- If he or she spends excessive amounts of time online, particularly with one person or chat room or group.
- If they mention how their Internet “friend” is more understanding than you are.
- If your child doesn’t want to share information about people and messages they receive online.
- If you enter the room and the computer screen suddenly goes dark.
- If your child uses an unusual number of discs to retrieve information and is hiding them, it may mean that adult images are being downloaded or secret correspondence is being saved.
- If your child is online late at night.
CHILD FRIENDLY SEARCH ENGINES
A handful of Web directories and search engines are available to filter Web content for kids. Here are a couple popular options.
- Ask Jeeves Kids