There are great reasons for kids to go online everyday. They can chat with friends, research school projects, and explore hobbies and interests. But the Internet also holds potential for harm. Young people can become detached from real-world friends and activities, grades might suffer as they neglect homework, and worst of all, kids can fall victim to predators on the Internet.
Just as you teach your children to follow safety rules for talking to strangers or crossing the street, and to brush their teeth and tie their shoes, you can teach them how to stay safe while surfing the 'Net.
Set Guidelines for Internet Use
- Decide how long and when your child can use the computer each day.
- If possible, set up the computer in a common area so you see what's going on.
- Let your child know that you have a right to see what's on the screen, if you choose.
- Talk to your child about sites visited, with whom they've conversed, and what topics were discussed.
- Familiarize yourself with your child's favorite sites. Make sure any chat rooms your child visits are monitored, live, by adults.
- Travel the Internet with your child. Bookmark safe sites for your child to visit alone.
Cyber Safety Tips
Larry Magid, founder of SafeKids.com and author of "Child Safety on the Information Highway," a free booklet distributed by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, says children can avoid perilous situations by following some simple dos and don'ts:
- Don't give out personal information -- address, telephone number, school name and location -- without parents' permission.
- Do tell your parents right away about anything online that makes you feel uncomfortable.
- Don't agree to get together with someone you met online without first checking with parents. If parents agree to the meeting, make sure that it's in a public place and a parent comes along.
- Don't send anyone your picture without permission.
- Don't respond to any messages that are mean or cause you to feel bad. Tell your parents right away.
- Don't give out any Internet passwords to anyone but your parents.
Know Where They Go
Some signs that a child might be spending too much time on the Internet or might be in an unhealthy e-mail or chat room relationship include shutting the door when going online; quickly logging off when you approach; telephone calls or packages to your child from someone you don't know.
If you are worried about where your child goes on the Internet, check your browser's history or cache folder (see instructions below). And if your concerns are justified or if the history file is suspiciously empty, it's time for a frank talk and firm consequences for breaking the rules.
How to Be a Snoop
It's not difficult to find out which sites your child has been visiting. Web browsers are designed to store a history, which shows names of sites clicked on. The key is to find the files located in your browser's history folder or cache, and just follow the bread crumbs.
- To find the cache folder in a Windows system, go to START and select SEARCH. Choose FILES and type in the word "cache." You can also look for a folder called "Temporary Internet Files" where recent Web graphics are stored.
- For Macintosh computers, select FIND in the File Menu and search for the word "cache." You'll see a list of folders and files of Web activity.
- You can open graphics files with your browser software. From the file menu, simply select OPEN.
Filtering Software Options
Filtering programs prohibit certain words or pictures from being viewed. Keep in mind, though, that filters can make regular Web surfing clumsy and may also filter valuable sites. Leading filters include:
- Net Nanny 4.0, Net Nanny Software Inc., $40, www.netnanny.com. Runs on Windows XP, 2000, 98, 95, NT and ME. This proven performer has lots of customization features.
- CYBERsitter 2000, Solid Oak Software, $40, www.cybersitter.com. Runs on Windows 95, 98, ME, NT, 2000, and XP. It's a reliable performer with intelligent content filtering.
- Cyber Patrol 5.0, Surfcontrol, $50 per year, www.cyberpatrol.com. Runs on Windows 98, ME, NT, 2000, and XP. This is a filter plus a subscription to a list of off-limits sites that you can download for updates.
- Norton Internet Security 2001 Family Edition Symantec, $100, www.symantec.com. Runs on Windows 98, ME, 2000, XP, and Mac OSX. One of the most stringent filters, it also lets you scan for viruses and block banner ads.
Safety Web Sites
SafeKids.Com. This site features guidelines for parents, Internet safety contracts for parents and kids to sign, and links to kid-friendly search engines and safe kids' sites.
GetNetWise. Select filtering software products based on your stated needs. It also features safety guidelines.
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. This site includes a cyber-tip line to report suspicious Internet activity.
The FBI's web site include an area for children and parents, and includes more detail about how online predators try to target children and what you can do to prevent or stop it.