Millions of people are now going online to exchange electronic mail, surf the Web, post and read messages in newsgroups (sometimes called bulletin boards), and participate in chat groups and many other online activities.
ISPs and online services generally do everything they can to provide their subscribers with an enjoyable, safe, and rewarding online experience, but it's not possible for these companies to police everyone who uses their service anymore than a local government can control the behavior of its citizens.
Besides, once you're connected to the Internet, you're able to exchange information with people who are signed on with other ISPs and online services.
The Internet is a vast global network of networks that's not governed by any company or government. Anyone in the world companies, governments, organizations, and individuals can publish material on the Internet. An ISP links you to these sites, but it can't control what is on them.
It's up to individuals to make sure that they behave in a way that's safe and appropriate.
Most people who go online have mainly positive experiences. But, like any endeavor traveling, cooking, or attending school there are some risks. The online world, like the rest of society, is made up of a wide array of people. Most are decent and respectful, but some may be rude, obnoxious, insulting, or even mean and exploitative.
Children get a lot of benefit from being online, but they can also be targets of crime and exploitation in this as in any other environment. Trusting, curious, and anxious to explore this new world and the relationships it brings, children need parental supervision and common-sense advice on how to be sure that their experiences with Internet are happy, healthy, and productive.
Most parents assume that pornography and sexual predators are the only dangers their children face on the internet. While these are certainly a huge concern, there are other dangers lurking in the dark corners of the net. These include the following: areas that foster hate crimes, sites that teach children how to make bombs and other weapons, forums to discuss the best ways to commit suicide, sites that encourage the use of drugs, and even areas where children watch others take drugs via webcams.
How Prevalent Are These Dangers?
Statistics show that 20 percent of children have been solicited online and 25 percent have received unwanted pornography online. Of the 3 million unique users under seventeen that visited adult sites in September of 2000, 21.2% of them were under the age of 14. More than half of teenagers have visited Internet sites containing pornography, offensive music lyrics, gambling or messages of violence or hate. Federal online child pornography cases jumped from 127 in 1995 to 510 in 1999. In 1998 the FBI opened up 700 cases dealing with online pedophilia, most for posting child pornography. By 2000 that figure quadrupled to 2,856 cases. One third of parents in households with Internet access said they used filtering or blocking software.
Parents and teachers need to instruct children about both the benefits and dangers of the Internet and for them to learn how to be "street smart" in order to better safeguard themselves.
What Are the Risks?
There are a few risks for children who use the Internet or online services. Teenagers are particularly at risk because they often use the computer unsupervised and because they are more likely than younger children to participate in online discussions regarding companionship, relationships, or sexual activity.
One risk is that a child may be exposed to inappropriate material that is sexual, hateful, or violent in nature, or encourages activities that are dangerous or illegal.
Another risk is that, while online, a child might provide information or arrange an encounter that could risk his or her safety or the safety of other family members. In a few cases, pedophiles have used E-mail, bulletin boards, and chat areas to gain a child's confidence and then arrange s face-to-face meeting.
A third risk is that a child might encounter E-mail or chat/bulletin board messages that are harassing, demeaning, or belligerent.
There is also the risk that a child could do something that has negative legal or financial consequences such as giving out a parent's credit card number or doing something that violates another person's rights.
How Parents Can Reduce the Risks
While children need a certain amount of privacy, they also need parental involvement and supervision in their daily lives. The same general parenting skills that apply to the "real world" also apply while online.
If you have cause for concern about your children's online activities, talk to them. Also seek out the advice and counsel of teachers, librarians, and other Internet and online service users in your area. Open communication with your children, utilization of such computer resources, and getting online yourself will help you obtain the full benefits of these systems and alert you to any potential problem that may occur with their use.
If your child tells you about an upsetting person or thing encountered while online, don't blame your child but help him or her avoid problems in the future. Remember how you respond will determine whether they confide in you the next time they encounter a problem and how they learn to deal with problems on their own.
Some online services and ISPs allow parents to limit their children's access to certain services and features such as adult-oriented web sites and "chat" rooms and bulletin boards. There may be an area set aside just for kids where you don't have to worry about them stumbling onto inappropriate material or getting into an unsupervised chat.
At the very least, keep track of any files your children download to the computer, consider sharing an E-mail account with your children to oversee their mail, and consider joining your children when they are in chat areas.
Tools that can help
Blocking or Filtering software prevents children from accessing inappropriate content. Filtered ISPs are internet service providers that offer protection against objectionable Internet web sites as well as unsolicited and inappropriate emails.
PC Time Monitors regulate the times of day and length of time your kids have access to the pc.
Activity or Keystroke Loggers keep a log of all communications between your child and others, so that you can later monitor what they have been doing.
PopUp Blockers prevent unwanted windows popping up as many of these are porn related.
Spam Blockers prevent your children from receiving spam email, which often advertise X-rated sites.
Family and child safe portals are a safe place for your children to be when searching the internet.
It is often best to use a combination of these types of tools to ensure safe internet usage.
While technological child-protection tools are worth exploring, they're not a total solution. Regardless of whether you choose to use a filtering program or an Internet rating system, the best way to assure that your children are having positive online experiences is to stay in touch with what they are doing. One way to do this is to spend time with your children while they're online. Have them show you what they do, and ask them to teach you how to use the Internet or online service. You might be surprised at how much you can learn from your kids.
Guidelines for Parents
By taking responsibility for your children's online computer use, parents can greatly minimize any potential risks of being online. Make it a family rule to never give out identifying information home address, school name, or telephone number in a public message such as chat or bulletin boards (newsgroup), and be sure you're dealing with someone that both you and your child know and trust before giving out this information via E-mail. Think carefully before revealing any personal information such as age, marital status, or financial information. Consider using a pseudonym, avoid listing your child's name and E-mail address in any public directories and profiles, and find out about your ISP's privacy policies and exercise your options for how your personal information may be used.
Get to know the Internet and any services your child uses. If you don't know how to log on, get your child to show you. Have your child show you what he or she does online, and become familiar with all the things that you can do online.
Never allow a child to arrange a face-to-face meeting with another computer user without parental permission. If a meeting is arranged, make the first one in a public place, and be sure to accompany your child.
Never respond to messages or bulletin board items that are suggestive, obscene, belligerent, threatening, or make you feel uncomfortable. Encourage your children to tell you if they encounter such messages. If you or your child receives a message that is harassing, of a sexual nature, or threatening, forward a copy of the message to your ISP, and ask for their assistance. Instruct your child not to click on any links that are contained in E-mail from persons they don't know. Such links could lead to sexually explicit or otherwise inappropriate web sites.
If someone sends you or your children messages or images that are obscene, lewd, filthy, or indecent with the intent to harass, abuse, annoy, or threaten, or if you become aware of the transmission, use, or viewing of child pornography while online, immediately report this to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's CyberTipline at 1-800-843-5678.
People online may not be who they seem. Because you can't see or even hear the person it would be easy for someone to misrepresent him- or herself. Thus, someone indicating that "she" is a " 12-year-old girl" could in reality be a 40-year-old man.
Make this a family activity. Consider keeping the computer in a family room rather than the child's bedroom. Get to know their "online friends" just as you get to know all of their other friends.
A Child's Rules For Staying Safe
* Your child quickly changes what is on the screen when you walk in the room.
* Your child stays up late at night talking to friends online.
* You notice links to sexually-explicit or inappropriate sites in the history section of the browser.
The following are some of our other favorite family and child safe website search tools.