Can You Keep Your Child Safe Online?
The online world mirrors the real one: it includes the good, the bad, and the ugly. While all parents want to keep their child safe, parents will have different standards for what they allow their child to experience online. This section covers:
Certain people can pose a danger to kids online and certain information online is not appropriate for children, or is appropriate only for certain ages. Most parents have strong feelings about what their children should be exposed to, and are concerned about how easy it is to get information online. Parents may worry about materials that are sexually explicit, violent, racially biased, or overly commercial.
The good news is there are several things that parents can do to help make their children's online experiences safer.
But, remember no parental control tool is 100% reliable. Not only do tools inadvertently allow access to some inappropriate material and block access to some valuable information, but savvy children may be able to get around the controls.
At this time, there are three primary places from which parents can obtain parental control tools:
Keep an eye on other parental control tools, such as "safe areas" for kids, new types of rating systems, and search engines designed to find only information that has been approved for families.
Positive Benefits for Your Child
Positive Benefits for Your Child
Access rich educational and cultural resources (text, sounds, pictures, and video) otherwise unavailable to most people.
Obtain up-to-the-minute information.
Improve ability to understand and evaluate information.
Stay informed by accessing your community and school Web sites.
Play fun and educational games.
Learn educational skills useful in future jobs.
Easy-to-find sites with sexually explicit images and text.
Easy-to-find sites promoting hatred, bigotry, violence, drugs, cults, and other things not appropriate for children.
Inaccurate, misleading and untrue information.
No restrictions on marketing products such as alcohol and tobacco to children.
Marketing that deceptively collects personal information from kids in order to sell products to them or their parents.
Requests for personal information for contests, surveys, etc., that are used in unauthorized ways.
Easy access to games with excessive violence and gender stereotypes.
Keep computer in family area to better monitor your child's activity.
Regularly spend time online with your child to learn about his or her interests and activities.
Teach your child to end any experience online when he or she feels uncomfortable or scared by pressing the back key, logging off, and telling a trusted adult as soon as possible.
Establish an atmosphere of trust and understanding with your child by not blaming him or her for uncomfortable online experiences.
Discuss the difference between advertising and educational or entertaining content and show your child examples of each.
Show your child the difference between sources of information that are credible and those that are not.
Teach your child to never give out personal information unless he or she has your permission and you know how and by whom the information will be used.
Establish strict rules for ordering products (and then monitor credit card bills).
"Talk back" to Internet Service Providers and content creators to let them know what you want and expect from them in keeping kids safe online.
What Parental Control Tools Can Do
Block access to materials (text and pictures) identified as inappropriate for kids.*
Permit access only to materials specifically approved as safe for kids.*
Allow you to specify what types of materials are appropriate for your child.
Help you monitor your child's activity on the Internet by storing names of sites and/or snapshots of material seen by your child on the computer for you to view later.
Allow you to set different restrictions for each family member.
Limit results of an Internet search to content appropriate for kids.
Block advertising that appears at the top of a Web page.
Enforce time limits set by parents.
* Each control tool determines whether materials are "inappropriate" or "safe for kids" differently. Make sure you ask what criteria the tool uses and how the evaluation process works; then check out the tool yourself.
Positive Benefits for Your Child
Privacy and Commercialism
The Internet was founded as a research and defense tool, and only now is its full commercial potential being explored. Advertisers and marketers recognize that millions of children are spending more time online and represent a major market:
In 1997, children spent $27 billion and influenced an additional $187 billion in other's spending.9
Online protections for children are just being developed in this arena, so parents need to be particularly vigilant and active.
Parents are used to media that have been regulated over time to protect children, like telephones and television. However, many regulations, such as those which restrict alcohol and cigarette advertising to children, do not necessarily apply online.
Moreover, traditional distinctions between advertising and content are blurred in many child-oriented sites-making it harder for children to distinguish commercials from "content." Further, the interactive nature of this medium makes it easier for marketers to collect personal information from children without necessarily revealing how it will be used and without getting permission from parents. In some cases marketers use free merchandise and familiar characters to encourage children to provide personally identifying information.10 According to a report from the Center for Media Education, online advertisers are targeting children as young as four, using marketing and advertising practices that are potentially harmful to children.11
As a parent, you can help protect children from harmful or inappropriate marketing practices by letting companies know what you think of their advertising and marketing practices and by contacting your Congressional representative or the Federal Trade Commission if you experience practices you think are wrong.
Many laws that pertain to information in other forms like books, magazines and television may apply in cyberspace, but have not yet been tested. Although the law is changing and lawmakers are struggling to find ways to regulate this challenging new medium, some rules do apply. In some cases, you or your child could inadvertently run into trouble with the law, including prosecution, prison, and fines for breaking the law. Here are some basic guidelines about frequently asked legal questions. Refer to the Resources section for updated and more extensive information.
Most commercial online services have strict terms of service that help protect you and your child in the event you encounter offensive behavior. If you or your child are the victim of harassment or other trouble online, contact your commercial or Internet Service Provider immediately. Offenders can have their accounts terminated, and service providers usually will cooperate with authorities when there is the possibility that a crime has been committed.
If the situation involves incidences of online enticement of children for sex acts, child pornography or child prostitution, you can report the incident to The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children's "CyberTipline" by calling toll free, (800) 843-5678, or going to their Web site, http://www.missingkids.org/cybertip. The CyberTipline forwards all reports to the appropriate law enforcement agencies.
Just like teaching a young person to drive a car, and balancing privilege with responsibility, you need to provide your child with some tools to help him or her stay safe online. One of these can be a set of Ground Rules that outlines the rules of safety that you and your child agree on.
Right and Wrong: Ethics Online
In addition to the law, parents ought to know about the special ethical issues that come up with this new technology. The interactive, seemingly anonymous, nature of the online world raises old ethical questions in new ways, especially for children.
Because the online world can feel "pretend" to a child, it is very important that a parent articulate and reinforce the importance of basic values (ethics) such as truthfulness, responsibility, and respect. Children need a careful explanation of what is acceptable behavior and why, and they need to know what exceptions, if any, are permissible.
Parents can use the "new" situations that come up online to reinforce basic standards of conduct and talk about values. For example:
It is important for you to talk with your children when these kinds of questions come up. They provide one of your best teaching tools. Since you're learning too, take the time to really discuss the tough questions and help your child to be a good citizen in cyberspace.
Etiquette Online: "Netiquette"
"Internet etiquette," called "netiquette," is also important for children and their parents to understand. There are widely accepted rules of behavior to follow when you're online, including (but not limited to):
Safe Traveling on the Information Superhighway: A Parents' Checklist
Sample online symbols called Emoticons:
:-) = I'm happy
: -( = I'm sad
(:-& = I'm angry
:-O = I'm shouting
BTW = By the way
LOL = Laughing out loud.
OTOH = On the other hand
IMHO = In my humble opinion.