Audrey Campbell is the media center director at Rogers Adventist School in College Place, Washington. She monitors the school’s library and a computer lab, where she strives to provide her students with positive Internet experiences. After attending a workshop on Internet safety, Audrey found that her drive to protect children on the World Wide Web intensified. Here are her tips for protecting your child-or a child you know-online.
1. Keep the computer in a room used by the whole family.
Never put a computer in an isolated spot, such as a child's room or a room with a door that can be closed. This allows you to easily supervise your children's use of the Internet. It also lessens the temptation, especially for preteens and teens, to access questionable Web sites. These questionable sites can be opened and closed in seconds, so always supervise your children online. If your kids argue for their privacy, make it clear that you are the parent and their safety is your responsibility. Remember that the consequences of not monitoring your children's Internet use can be very severe, even fatal. Stalkers and predators have lured innocent children to a meeting place.
2. Limit your children's access to the Internet.
Every computer allows you to customize settings. Set up accounts so children cannot use the computer unless you type in a password, or turn on filters to block certain websites. For your options, go to the "Help" section of your computer and run searches for the words "privacy" and "passwords." Filtering software gives parents even more control. It blocks Web sites, downloads, images, and other content that might be sexually suggestive or otherwise questionable. Specific sites can also be set as "safe." Most computer stores that sell software also sell filtering software. If you are not computer savvy, buy software with technical support to help you set up the filtering software and turn on the parental controls.
3. Protect settings with a password, and change the password regularly.
Filtering software and parental controls do not catch everything. Monitor your children's emails, instant messages, and site histories. If you do not know how, ask someone-or pay someone-to teach you. Or take a class. Set your Internet browser to open to a child-friendly site. Many Internet browsers open to websites that include headlines, images, or advertisements that are inappropriate for children. Choose a site, such as kids.yahoo.com, that allows you to customize the opening site to be child-appropriate, and set the browser to avoid certain other sites.
4. Teach your children to never give out personal information.
This includes (but is not limited to) names, addresses, school names, hobbies, and pictures-any information that can be collected to track your children. Teach them what personal information is and continually reinforce this lesson. Quiz your kids, whether in the car or while Rollerblading. Say, "If someone asks you for your address, is that personal information?" One website where kids reveal personal information is facebook.com.
Teach your children how to safely use sites such as these. If your children feel the need to include a picture, have them post a picture of their cat or dog. In a friendly way, keep in touch with your children about their personal sites. Tell them, "I want to see your Facebook page. Will you show me what you're doing? Let's look at it tomorrow." Fix the privacy settings on these types of sites so that only their real friends-no strangers-can access the information. Children should also understand that when talking to their friends online, they should use a computer code name or screen name different from their own. Brainstorm with your child about a safe name to use-something simple and not suggestive.
Make it clear that people are not always who they say they are. Children should avoid meeting new people online, but if they do, they should never meet an online acquaintance in real life without first talking to you. Teach your children to come directly to you if they are chatting online or emailing and the subject of a real-life meeting comes up.
5. Stay approachable.
Tell your children that if they stumble upon inappropriate material or receive inappropriate direct messages or emails, you want to know about it. And you will not blame your children for it. Contact your Internet provider to report the incident and possibly file charges if an incident occurs.
6. Be aware of alternative places where your children may be accessing the Internet.
Check with your children's schools about their Internet policies. Be careful whose houses your kids visit. If you don't feel comfortable, invite everybody to your house instead. When your children are out of your home, it is impossible to constantly monitor them. Teach your kids at home how to safely use the Internet, and pray that when they are on their own, they will use the lessons you have taught them.
7. Use the Internet for positive activities.
The Internet opens up endless educational sites for homework help, encyclopedias, recipes, and research. The Internet can be a wonderful family activity. Do family scavenger hunts online. Ask your kids, "Can you find out how old Mickey Mouse is? When was he first drawn, and who drew him?" Show your kids fun, safe ways to use the Internet, and introduce them to fun, safe sites. You can also learn a great deal from your children. Ask them, "Can you show me how to . . .?" or "Can you teach me how to . . ."?
The Internet should not be feared. Set definite safety rules. And remember that direct involvement is the best step a parent can take.