The Internet represents a relatively new challenge to parents of teenagers. While it can be a wonderful tool for communicating and information gathering, it also contains many dangers for teens, including easily accessible pornographic sites and adult child molesters masquerading as friendly peers. Here are some tips for protecting your teens while at the same time allowing them to utilize the benefits of the Internet:
- Make learning how to navigate the Internet a family experience. This will give you an opportunity to ensure your teenager understands the rules of Internet use. This also allows you to set a good example for your teen. If, on the other hand, teenagers see their parents accessing "adult" sites or using foul language in chat rooms, they come to see that as appropriate Internet behavior.
- Place the computer in a family living area, not in your teenager's bedroom. Having to use a computer in a public area will help reduce the likelihood your teen will explore sites he or she knows are inappropriate or in violation of family rules.
- Limit the times that your teenager can be on the Internet. If your teenager is up at 3:00 in the morning exploring the Internet, he or she may be more inclined to experiment with accessing inappropriate sites. The later the hour, the more likely it is that dangerous adults will be attempting to contact unsuspecting teens and younger children.
- Do not allow your teen to participate in unsupervised chat rooms. Here's where real danger lies. Anyone can log onto a chat room and disguise their true identity and purpose. Even monitored and supervised chat rooms can pose dangers. This is one way that predators can acquire a teenager's e-mail address. It is best, therefore, to allow your teenager to participate in chats only with people they already know.
- Use search engines that filter out adult and other inappropriate Web sites. Unfiltered search engines can result in a teenager innocently stumbling upon a pornographic or hate-inspired Web site. Often these sites will use innocent sounding search words, like "doll" or even "puppies," to direct traffic to their Web sites. Make sure your teenagers only have access to search engines that filter out this kind of garbage.
- Trust, but verify. Every once in a while, you should check the files that have been downloaded by your computer's Internet browser. Some software programs provide detailed reports of the sites your computer has visited. Let your teenager know in advance you are going to do this, which will help them resist the temptation to go where they know they shouldn't go.
- Don't allow your teenager to become an Internet addict. The Internet can be a valuable tool. It should not become a lifestyle. Limit the overall amount of time your teenager (and you) spend on the Internet on a daily or weekly basis. Encourage your teen to engage in old-fashioned activities, like reading and sports, that don't require a computer.
- Have a good relationship with your teen. In the end, the most important protection you have against the dangers of the Internet is not a filtered search engine, but a good and open relationship with your teen.