Safe Surfing Equal Safe Children!
The Internet can be a wonderful resource for children. They can use it to research school reports, communicate with teachers and other children, and play interactive games. Children who are old enough to punch in a few letters on the keyboard can literally access the world.
But that access can also pose hazards. For example, an 8-year-old might do an online search for "Lego." But with just one missed keystroke, the word "Legs" is entered instead, and the child may be directed to a slew of websites with a focus on legs — some of which may contain pornographic material.
That's why it's important to be aware of what your kids see and hear on the Internet, who they meet, and what they share about themselves online.
Just like any safety issue, it's wise to talk with your kids about your concerns, take advantage of resources to protect them, and keep a close eye on their activities.
Internet Safety Laws
A federal law, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), was created to help protect kids online. It's designed to keep anyone from obtaining a child's personal information without a parent knowing about it and agreeing to it first.
COPPA requires websites to explain their privacy policies on the site and get parental consent before collecting or using a child's personal information, such as a name, address, phone number, or Social Security number. The law also prohibits a site from requiring a child to provide more personal information than necessary to play a game or participate in a contest.
But even with this law, your children's best online protection is you. By talking to them about potential online dangers and monitoring their computer use, you'll help them surf the Internet safely.
Online Protection Tools
Online tools are available that will let you control your kids' access to adult material and help protect them from Internet predators. No option is going to guarantee that they'll be kept away from 100% of the risks on the Internet. So it's important to be aware of your kids' computer activities and educate them about online risks.
Many Internet service providers (ISPs) provide parent-control options to block certain material from coming into a computer. You can also get software that helps block access to certain sites based on a "bad site" list that your ISP creates. Filtering programs can block sites from coming in and restrict personal information from being sent online. Other programs can monitor and track online activity. Also, make sure your kids create a screen name to protect their real identity.
Getting Involved in Kids' Online Activities
Aside from these tools, it's wise to take an active role in protecting your kids from Internet predators and sexually explicit materials online. To do that:
Become computer literate and learn how to block objectionable material.
Keep the computer in a common area, not in individual bedrooms, where you can watch and monitor its use.
Share an email account with your child so you can monitor messages.
Bookmark kids' favorite sites for easy access.
Spend time online together to teach your kids appropriate online behavior.
Forbid your child from entering private chat rooms; block them with safety features provided by your Internet service provider or with special filtering software. Be aware that posting messages to chat rooms reveals a user's email address to others.
Monitor your credit card and phone bills for unfamiliar account charges.
Find out what, if any, online protection is offered by your child's school, after-school center, friends' homes, or anyplace where kids could use a computer without your supervision.
Take your child seriously if he or she reports an uncomfortable online exchange.
Forward copies of obscene or threatening messages you or your kids get to your Internet service provider.
Call the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at (800) 843-5678 if you're aware of the transmission, use, or viewing of child pornography online. Contact your local law enforcement agency or the FBI if your child has received child pornography via the Internet.
Many sites use "cookies," devices that track specific information about the user, such as name, email address, and shopping preferences. Cookies can be disabled. Ask your Internet service provider for more information.