Over the winter holidays, my niece couldn’t wait to tell me about her music. She had just started composing her own songs and wanted to post them online. The kid-friendly media giant Nickelodeon runs her favorite site, where an adult monitors all post requests before those missives go live.
But that was Christmas, and ‘so last year.’ It’s now Easter and she’s started her own blog. At 11, she’s dragging her parents — one technology after the other — into the modern world of the Internet. Luckily, her parents are Net-savvy enough to guide her forays onto the Web.
The answers to her “can I?” requests aren’t always “yes.” There are limits and there are ground rules. She must get her parents’ permission before joining anything in the real or virtual world. She is not allowed to share any identifying information about herself, including where she lives or her name. She also knows that Mom and Dad are watching. Her parents long ago installed a content filter on the family computer that resides in the living room, and she’s been apprised in advance that they will be monitoring her online posts and those of her online friends.
It’s not that her parents don’t trust her; they do. She’s been told that that is why she’s been granted the privilege to blog and chat online. But she knows not everyone on the Internet is whom they purport to be nor do they always behave appropriately. And for that reason, her parents need to check things out on a continual basis.
One good thing about Internet and Web 2.0 tools is the easy accessibility to research and the ability to connect with people, groups and ideas. Unfortunately, much on the Web isn’t kid-friendly and some paths on the Internet are just plain dangerous.
“The most important thing any adult caregiver or parent needs to understand is that technology alone cannot solve the problem to keep kids safe online,” says Ben Halpert, a nationally recognized security expert and parent in Atlanta. “Most technologies have a good and a bad aspect to them. There will always be malicious people out there who turn a technology with a legitimate purpose into something bad.”
So, when’s the best time to have this discussion with your child about Internet safety? Halpert recommends doing it now, if your children communicate online and you haven’t created guidelines for them to follow. “As soon as they start asking about going online, take that as an opportunity to discuss online safety.”
Content filtering tools can help, but they can only do so much. It takes a village to raise a child, and the same applies to keeping kids safe online — it takes schools, parents and kids.
Editor in Chief, firstname.lastname@example.org
Internet Safety 101
While there are lots of fun and educational destinations for children on the Internet, shows like Dateline NBC’s “To Catch a Predator” are constant reminders that the Internet isn’t always safe. Parents, schools and students need to work together to establish ground rules for going online. Most schools already have acceptable use policies in place. If your school doesn’t have one, ask about its status.
Some online rules to get you started
- Do not download or open files, including images, from unknown sources.
- Never divulge personal information such as age, gender, address or phone number, passwords or photographs.
- Use a gender-neutral screen name.
- Discontinue online communications (e-mail, instant message, chats) that become overly personal, aggressive, frightening or sexually suggestive.
- Report suspicious activity to a parent or trusted adult.
- Keep your child’s computer in a high-traffic area of the home, such as the family room or kitchen.