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How can I Protect My Child?

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It’s not always easy to supervise kids. Many children, older adolescents in particular, might resist your attempts to exert influence on them. But part of parenting is encouraging children to live up to high expectations of trust and responsible behavior, while at the same time recognizing that making mistakes is a natural part of growing up. When it comes to guidance about any issue, an atmosphere of trust and open communication is essential.

As you provide Internet guidance, be aware that children might be unrealistically confident in their ability to handle themselves online. A study by the Girl Scout Research Institute found that 84 percent of girls surveyed said they relied on their own common sense when determining whether something online was safe or unsafe.

Here are three “big-picture” steps you can take to put your kids on the road to safe, responsible, and fun surfing:

1. Become Internet savvy.
2. Set up a model Internet home.
3. Talk to your kids about Internet do’s and don’ts.

1. Become Internet Savvy
If you develop a basic understanding of what’s on the Internet and how children use it, your parenting will be more effective. Don’t be intimidated if you haven’t done much on the Web except e-mailing or shopping—anyone can learn about how the Internet works. And don’t be afraid to admit to your children that they are probably more Net savvy than you. What’s most important is to understand the Internet within the context of your children’s own experiences.

  • Spend time with kids as they surf. Ask questions about what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. Pay attention to how their age and maturity level influence their surfing.

  • Find out what kind of Web content, on Web sites, in chat rooms, and so on, attracts your children's attention.

  • Keep general tabs on what your kids are exploring online, just as you would oversee their schoolwork.

  • Learn about tools and programs that promote Internet safety. Tap into well-regarded parental resources such as, CyberAngels, or The Children's Partnership. Seek out local libraries and nonprofit groups that offer further assistance and training.

  • Talk to other adults, such as teachers or parents, who can share their experiences or knowledge with you.

  • Ask your children’s school administrators, teachers, or librarians about the steps they’re taking to teach information literacy and Internet safety. Although almost all schools have Internet use agreements called Acceptable Use Policies, or AUPs, far fewer devote time to instruction on how to safely obtain and evaluate information on the Web. Confirm that the school’s Web site doesn’t post student names or photos.

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2. Set Up a Model Internet Home
Children can access the Internet from many places, but at home you can control their environment and help them learn safe surfing habits. The lessons learned at home will stay with them wherever they go.

  • Keep the computer out of your child’s bedroom. Instead, set it up in an area that’s used by the entire family. This not only discourages children from misbehaving on the Web, it keeps you or another adult close by to provide help when they need it.
  • Choose your children’s online names carefully. Don’t use actual first names as any part of a screen name, and don’t reveal gender. Also, don’t allow your children to use screen names that reveal age (for example, “DeeDee2005”).
  • Offer kids appealing, age-appropriate Web sites that they’ll enjoy. Knowing what’s good on the Internet is at least as important as knowing what’s bad.
  • Keep a close eye on anyone who, previously unknown, begins to pay a lot of attention to your child online.
  • Consider creating an Internet use agreement that can help formalize your talks with kids and prevent misunderstandings.
  • Ask older, more-experienced siblings or other family members to supervise, encourage, and guide younger children.
  • Set good examples for responsible Internet use. Parents who view sexually explicit images online might leave traces of the viewing that their children can find later. It might be smart to avoid activities that raise questions for your child.
  • Deal with an event constructively by reviewing it with your child, discussing why the content was inappropriate, how to get rid of it, how to avoid it in the future, and, if necessary, how to report it to your Internet service provider (ISP) or the appropriate law-enforcement agency.

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3. Talk to Your Kids about Internet Do’s and Don’ts
Parents need to be Internet aware, but so do kids. Here are safety suggestions and important issues to discuss with your children, including how they should respond to any potentially negative situation, whether you’re present or not.

  • Discuss the benefits and dangers of the Internet, providing clear guidance about what materials and activities are important and why. Ask for feedback and listen closely to your children’s opinions.

  • Make sure your children understand that they shouldn’t believe everything they see or hear online.

  • Instruct children never to send pictures of themselves or reveal personal information to anyone online without your permission. Personal information includes their age, address, telephone number, your work address or phone numbers, the name and location of their school, or the teams they play on. This information should also be kept out of personal Web pages, online profiles, and any chats, e-mails, and instant messages.

  • Urge children to alert you if they encounter something or someone on the Internet that makes them feel uncomfortable, whether through an image or a message.

  • Make sure your kids understand that they should never get together with anyone they’ve “met” online without your permission. If you do agree to such a meeting, make sure it happens in a public place and that you’re there with them.

  • Rehearse with children the actions they should take if they view off-limits content or if someone contacts them in an inappropriate manner. Remind them that they can walk away from the computer or even turn it off if they’re uncomfortable with something they see or hear online. Above all, they should never respond to messages or bulletin-board items that are suggestive, obscene, belligerent, or threatening. Instruct them to give you a copy of any such message that you can forward to your Internet service provider (ISP).

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