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Protecting Children Online - Basic Rules

written by: •edited by: Aaron R.•updated: 4/11/2009

This article explains the importance for parents to relate internet activities to everyday activities.

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    Children Online

    We want our children to stay safe. We want our children to learn our family values and respect for each person and their property. We want to protect our children from people who have the potential to harm them. Involve yourself with your children’s online activities just as you do with their everyday activities.

    I will not tell parents how to raise their children. It is important for parents to relate internet activities to everyday activities according to each family’s individual values and the ages of the children. Maintaining the personal safety of children is the goal. Parents are obligated, for the safety of their children, to incorporate family values into their everyday teaching of crime prevention and internet safety. Internet safety should be taught alongside crime prevention as soon as your child is learning about risky behavior such as ‘keep away from the hot stove’. As with everyday life, parents are the first line of defense for children’s safety when they are using the internet.

    Keep a watch on younger family members as they play outside and on the internet so a bad stranger is not given the opportunity to contact them. Young children should stay away from the stove and the street. They should avoid strangers in the neighborhood, on the phone, at websites or chat rooms and through e-mail. Teach children who to contact for and how to contact help so they can avoid compromising their personal safety.

    The internet can be compared to a gigantic lobby with every idea, resource, and personality available to every internet user – including your children. The internet can legitimize any idea, belief, or act by providing a community for persons across the globe with similar interests, ideas and beliefs to share and support each other whether or not you or I consider the ideas, beliefs or acts horrendous or honorable. For example, you can find communities of people online who believe it is perfectly normal to enjoy sex with children and other online communities that share their interest for books.

    I believe there are many more nice people in the world than bad even though the bad people usually get more attention. People on the internet are not different than people we meet in our everyday lives. A big difference about meeting people in our everyday lives and on the internet is that you can meet many, many more people from diverse backgrounds that share or fail to share your personal values. There also isn't always the onlooker down the hall, across the street, or nearby to identify a potentially dangerous situation and possible step-in to help.

    Not all problems from the internet will put your child in physical danger. Some problems can be unintentional viewing of sexual, violent, or hateful words or images. These are most definitely unsuitable for children but do not expose them to physical harm or danger. People expose children to danger. People encourage illegal activity.

    Many children worry about being denied access to the internet and their parents’ reaction more than actually seeing the sexual, violent, or hateful words and pictures. Discuss this with your children. Let them know you always support them in everyday life and on the internet when they are doing a wonderful job and when things could go wrong.

    Access to the internet is not limited to the family or home computer. Our children can access the internet at school, at the library, at a friend’s house, on the cell phone, or playing some video games. All electronic communications require parental supervision. Teenagers whose parents know where, with whom, for how long, and what they are doing – while keeping communication channels open – are much less likely to experiment with questionable behavior. There is no substitute for your personal supervision.

    Parents should establish acceptable behavior for each electronic device especially those with internet access. Home and laptop computers are not the only tools that can access the internet. Mobile phones can be used anywhere there is a network signal and some can immediately send and receive messages with a picture (in real time) to another mobile phone or computer that has text messaging enabled. Mobile phones can also send and receive email and roam the internet. Home video games that are internet-enabled can not only access the internet but also can allow players to talk in real time with other online players from around the world. This is great fun and teenagers seem to very much enjoy this. This is a necessary part of expanding their social network. The reported number of teenagers abducted, harmed, kidnapped, or lured from the safety of their homes resulting from an online association is comparatively small compared to the number of teens using the internet every day. But, this small percentage is still too much when the victim is your child. Parents need to know what is happening during activities using electronic devices so they can maintain the safety, education, and independence of their children.

    Parents should not assume that because their child or teenager is using a computer at home or at school their teenager understands all the risks and always displays the same responsible behavior online they display in everyday situations.

    Children, especially teenagers, should not have any personal secured files on the home computer. Parents should have access to all files in every computer used by each child and teenager at any time because parents are responsible for the child’s personal safety in everyday situations and on the internet as well as the child’s actions in everyday life and on the internet. Parents need to preventany injury or harm to other people or property resulting from something their child or teenager did or did not do in everyday situations and on the internet.

    Visit internet social gatherings with your teenager and child. Supervise their internet activities as you do any party they attend. Chat rooms and social networking websites are wonderful for interacting with friends and to make new friends but they are also potential gathering grounds for child predators. Know your child’s logon information and visit their private web pages to be sure there is no indication of personal information or flirtations with someone they met online. Be sure their contact information is not available or can be guessed through a link to a friend’s webpage.

    Cell phones, text messaging and the internet are children’s lifelines to their world. Most adults approach computers and electronic devices as practical tools while children approach the internet as the lifeline to their friends and their world. Forbidding a teenager to interact through one of their social lifelines is unrealistic. Teenagers are not yet fully grown or matured. They still need supervision and constant attention to reinforce the lessons of respect you teach to not smear, harm, embarrass, ridicule, or threaten. Teenagers typically don’t respond well to a list of Do’s and Don’ts as younger children do. They need to know you support them when they do well and when something inappropriate happens they did not foresee coming. This includes a joke online that can be misinterpreted even though they joke face-to-face with their neighborhood friends or when viewing unsuitable content from search results. It is possible the object of their joke can be emotionally hurt. This is not different than when a child is in the neighborhood and joking with a peer who is not in their immediate circle of friends. Children can send and receive harassing and bullying messages. They also know they typically understand computers better than their parents. They sometimes fear that their parents protective reaction may make the bullying or victimizing worse if they are the objects of the ridicule. They can even fear their parents may restrict access or forbid the technology.

    Cybercrime prevention needs to be taught alongside crime prevention. When you begin teaching your child right from wrong in everyday situations, that is when proper and safe computer and internet use should be taught. If you or your child would not do something in everyday situations, then it should not be done using the internet. The suggested topics below are similar to conversations you already had or are preparing to have with your children. This is because online situations that may cause problems are the same as those in everyday situations except that the tools of the internet and communication devices are being used.

    • Practice and display respect for others in your household, community and on the internet. Children learn by imitation and words. Respect is the basis for relationships and the harmony of society as a whole. The same rules of respect and decency in public places apply to the internet.
    • Teach and set an example of respect for other people at home, in your community, and online. Teach your children that when someone approaches them, they should only tell their first name (in the neighborhood) or username (online). If the stranger still wants to know more, explain how to get away from the stranger immediately or disconnect from the internet and immediately tell the nearest adult. Also explain to children if anyone makes them feel uncomfortable, uses bad language, or asks them to keep secret from you any information, conversation, or relationship, they should immediately leave wherever they are and tell you or the nearest adult. Remember to explain the reasons they should not read email from strangers or send pictures (if they are old enough to know how) to strangers or people they have not met in person with you.
    • Every personality you meet in your lifetime is available to your children online. Children by nature are trusting. They do not yet have the life experiences of most adults to recognize the warning signs of a possibly bad or dangerous situation or person. Younger children can’t yet fully understand the meaning of “do not tell anyone private information.” It is not a remote possibility that friendly conversations in a chat room, a store, or email could reveal what your family did during their school vacation, where you shop, the diet a family member is following, a general idea of your family’s economic status, or how much children get for an allowance. These are personal family knowledge shared with each member of the household. There seems to be no secrecy about the information. Parents must find a way to make their young children understand which information shared with family members could be used by some strangers for harm. Learning their home address and phone number is something to be proud of. It is an accomplishment. They want everyone to know what they learned so everyone can be proud of them. Who do they tell when they get lost? It is confusing for the young mind to remember that policemen or firemen they meet through email or chat rooms – strangers - are probably pretending and could possibly be a bad person. Or, the store salesperson – a stranger – can help reunite them with you should they be lost or separated from you.
    • Teach your kids that giving out personal information online means giving it to strangers. Emphasize how little innocent bits of information (teacher’s name, town, text messaging with a phone) over a period of time can provide enough information for a stranger to locate your family.
    • While teaching your children family values and respecting other people’s property and privacy, teach them that those values also apply to the internet. It does not matter if they are using a phone, computer or game. There are people who think because “everyone does it”, whatever it is, is all right to do. Some teenagers and their friends enjoy hacking into computers or email. Because they can do it and most people can’t, it can be a way to show off and gain prestige among friends and peers. These teenagers are usually not the typical “bad” kid. Most times they are good students and respectful of others. The computer hacking activities are against the law. We need everyone – not just our children – to realize that the crime of breaking and entering applies to all property, electronic communication systems as well as buildings, vehicles and residences.
    • Practice with your children how to avoid and get away from strangers should they approach your child online or in your neighborhood according to your family values and their age. Emphasize with younger children that if a stranger has a problem (in your neighborhood or online) they can best help the stranger by telling their problem to an adult even if the stranger has to find their pet now, needs something your child has now, or needs help to finish homework online now. Explain they should not respond to or talk with strangers especially in emails, chat rooms, and text messaging. Emphasize how little innocent bits of information (teacher’s name, town, text messaging with a phone) over a period of time can provide enough information for a stranger to locate your family. Face-to-face meetings with persons met online should not be allowed for any minor unless you personally arrange and are at the meeting in a very public location. This suggestion can avoid potentially dangerous physical situations such as molestation.
    • Online friends do not need to know what your child looks like. Online friends should be considered acquaintances like pen pals rather than neighborhood friends. Online friends do not need to know the school or teacher's name or where you live. Online friends should not text using phones. Some young children have imaginary friends. Monitor these imaginary friends and be sure they are imaginary and not someone they are communicating with through the internet.
    • Remind the younger children not to believe everything someone says on the internet. Even if someone says they are a policeman, fireman, or schoolteacher, do not believe them when you meet them in a chat room or through text messaging. Tell younger children over and over again not to tell strangers (even someone in a chat room or email who keeps saying they are a policeman, schoolteacher, or fireman) their real name, address, phone number, age, where they go to school or for vacation, how much allowance they get, how many brothers and sisters they have, etc. Younger children do not yet understand the things adults understand. When a policeman or fireman wants to spend time talking with them, children are usually delighted. They can’t yet understand why someone would lie to them. Remember to watch the younger children and with whom they talk. A better way for us to remember is to remind the younger kids to NOT tell anyone anything except your screen or username in a chat room or another text messaging user that is not on your contact or buddy list. Younger children should not be in a chat room or using text messaging without an adult right there with them anyway. If your child is not yet old enough to go on an unescorted date, they should be in a chat room or using text messaging. The problem is not whether or not your child will behave or follow your directions. The problem is with strangers who may target them for selfish and criminal purposes.
    • Teach your children to avoid persons who try to turn your child against you, friends, teachers, authority figures, etc.
    • Explain to your child there is sexually explicit material on the internet that is not appropriate for them to see or search for. Help them recognize email subjects and senders they should always avoid. Teach your child to recognize lewd wording and other clues to avoid following a link and actually viewing inappropriate websites. Search engines can find inappropriate content when the searcher didn’t intend that reference of the search term.
    • Practice Basic Internet Safety Prevention

    When your child is using a computer connected to the internet, remember the basic rule of safety regarding children: Protect children online as you do with everyday activities.