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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.