Tips for Parents

The Internet is a great place for your children to have fun and keep in touch with family and friends. Because of the huge amount of information available online, the potential for educational benefit to your family from legitimate online sources is nearly unlimited.

On the other hand, just as you protect your children from dangers in the "real" world, you must be aware of the possible dangers that tempt naive and trusting children, especially teenagers, into dangerous situations. Becoming educated about technology and striving to open and maintain lines of communication with your children is just as critical as teaching young children to look before they cross the street and older ones to become responsible drivers. Your job to educate and protect your children supercedes any feelings they may have regarding their rights to privacy!

What are the possible dangers?

  • Accessing inappropriate web sites. A few examples: pornography; extremist activities; hate groups; instructions for committing violent acts; drug manufacturing.
  • Contact with sexual predators: most common via social networking, e-mail or instant messaging. These predators take advantage of a child's insecurities to befriend them.
  • Bullying, harassment, and character defamation in the public arena of the Internet, by e-mail and social networking, can be cruel, vicious, degrading and very damaging to children and teens.
  • Scams, fraud and identity theft: Internet users may unwittingly fall victim to criminal scams that begin by asking for passwords, credit card information, social security numbers and other personal information in a way that appears to be legitimate.
  • Sales: While there are many ethical e-commerce sites and sellers doing business on the Internet, there are numerous fraudulent operators misrepresenting merchandise or using an e-commerce site to collect credit card information. As with television, the Internet is being use for aggressive marketing campaigns aimed at young consumers. Buyers must be very careful purchasing from Internet auction sites. If it's too good to be true, it's probably a scam.
  • Computer issues: Viruses, worms, spyware, adware and some peer to peer software may cause your computer or software to malfunction or compromise your security and privacy. Install and use an antivirus program and a firewall. You should also install and regularly run software that searches your computer for spyware and adware. Download and install only reputable software programs.

How can I help my child avoid risky situations and make sensible decisions?

  • Without overreacting, establish clear and reasonable rules for computer use in your home and outside your home. Limit the time and the hours of the day your child can participate in online activities. Make sure you create, explain and implement consequences for breaking the rules.
  • Place your computer in an open area of your home where you can easily supervise your child's computer activities.
  • Consider choosing an online service that offers parental controls. Check with your current provider to find out what services they offer. Purchase monitoring and filtering software that allows you some control over computer use.
  • Internet accounts and profiles should be in your name and you should control passwords and screen names. Help your child choose a screen name that is nondescript. Do not allow children to have personal profiles because these can often be easily accessed by predators.
  • Know who your children exchange e-mail with. If they have a "buddy list" check it often for changes.
  • Know your child's friends and talk to their parents about computer use in their homes. Be aware of other computers outside of your home that your child may be using.
  • Keep the lines of communication open with your child. Be supportive of the educational and fun uses of technology and spend time exploring the Internet with your child. Work to establish an atmosphere of trust within your family, encouraging your children to tell you about their online activities.
  • Help your children understand...
    • what personal information is and why it should not be given.
    • what is being posted on a web site or discussed online can affect a person's privacy and reputation and often cannot be deleted or removed.
    • the importance of not responding to unsolicited, offensive or unpleasant e-mail or chat.
    • while they may feel "alone" online, they are not. People can find out who they are and where they are by taking advantage of the natural tendencies of children and teens to be trusting and open.
    • what they read or see online is not all factual or reliable. Encourage a cautious approach to online "information."
  • Recognize that chat rooms and social networking can be dangerous. Do not allow your child to visit chat rooms or, at the very least, restrict them to age and subject appropriate chat rooms only and monitor their activity. Chat services that provide monitors are generally safer than unmonitored chat rooms, but parental supervision is essential in any case.
  • Tell your children...
    • to tell you immediately if they are threatened, scared or made uncomfortable by someone or something online. (Be sure you respond in a helpful and calm manner.)
    • never give out their own or their friends' names, addresses, phone numbers, parents' names, school names, or other personal information.
    • never agree to personally meet someone they met online.
    • never send photographs online without your permission.
    • never fill out forms or questionnaires online without your permission.
    • not to enter areas that charge for services without your permission.

What warning signs should I watch for?

  • Your child spends a great deal of time on the Internet or is online late at night.
  • Your child changes the computer screen when you enter the room.
  • Your child becomes uneasy or defensive when you are close to their online activity or discussing online behavior. (If you see your child type POS this is a red flag. It means "parent over shoulder.")
  • There are unusual charges on credit card statements or phone bills. Be especially alert to charges with seemingly benign identification. Pornographers and con artists are careful not to attract attention by using descriptive names.
  • Your child has a sudden influx of cash or gifts.
  • You notice changes in your child's behavior or habits (secretiveness, inappropriate knowledge, changes in interests, sleeping problems, etc.).

What should I do if I know or think my child is being exposed to potentially risky situations?

  • Communicate with your child and be involved. Be non-judgmental as you encourage your child to answer your questions and discuss your concerns.
  • If your child is involved in online bullying or harassment, either as a perpetrator, victim or bystander, engage in a discussion of ethics, kindness and respect. Talk about the legal realities of criminal arrest or civil litigation in extreme cases of cyberbullying. Your child's role in the activity will determine how you respond.
  • If threatening or pornographic material is received by your child, save it. If you can identify the company, report the incident to the sender's Internet Service Provider (ISP). Contact your local law enforcement agency.
  • Report any content or activity that you suspect may be illegal to local law enforcement agencies.

CyberSafe information copied and used with permission from Boise School District