There was once a time when you only had to worry
about children when they were outside or not at home. Those
times have changed. Strangers can now enter your home, without
a key or coming through a door. How you may ask? These strangers
enter your home using a keyboard. These strangers can befriend
your children online.
Social networking has become increasingly popular
and websites like Myspace have thrived with adolescents and
teens. While pedophiles may be the minority on these sites,
the threat of having a pedophile enter your home, under the
guise of being someone their not, is just too big of a threat
It may seem harmless enough, at first glance.
I mean, what do other web surfers really know about your child?
They might even live half a world away. How could they possibly
harm your child? Perhaps you might even see the educational
value of your child interacting with individuals from other
cultures and understanding the global nature of today's world,
but consider this...
Children online don't feel that these "friends"
are strangers. They "chat" with them daily. These people,
who parents consider strangers, are their friends. They understand
what the child is going through and they listen in ways the
parents never seem to. The recent riveting testimony of a
young boy that was drawn into online pornography at the age
of 13, should be a wake up call to all parents. Computers
and the Internet can be far more dangerous than most parents
ever imagine. The likelihood of a child online will encounter
strangers is far higher than a stranger wandering into their
Parents warn their children about strangers
as they grow up, perhaps its time to redefine the term stranger.
Consider the following to protect your child, adolescent,
or teenager while online.
Do not allow your children to use a webcam unsupervised. Children
will often forget that the webcams are there or even worse,
what may seem harmless online flirting might result in unwarranted
or undesired attention from an anonymous predator. Additionally,
webcams have been tied to home robberies where burglars viewed
items of interest through a webcam. A little online digging
resulted in the home address, and items were then stolen.
2. Common Area.
In spite of an adolescents or a teenagers need for privacy,
it is best to keep the computer in a family common area. It
might be helpful to explain to your child why it is important
that computers be out in the open. Children should understand
that using a computer is not a right, is a privilege. Parents
can and should supervise online activity.
3. Personal Information.
Personal information is just that, personal, and should not
be shared by children. As easy as that is to say, sometimes
children are often confused as to what constitutes personal
information. Educating children about what personal information
is, is just as important as educating them as telling them
not to share. Children need to understand that just because
someone asks for personal information doesn't mean you have
to tell them.
What is personal information? Knowing not to
share your location, name, age, address, phone number, town,
password, and schedule might seem obvious to children, but
what many don't realize is that predators will often piece
together various bits of information. A predator will aggregate
data to determine a child's location or true identity. Predators
are able to use IP tracking and the location of an online
web provider that you use might assist them in narrowing down
a location. Information related to sports events or scheduled
concerts will further allow a predator to ascertain a child's
location and personal information.
Provide adolescents and teenagers these tips
in determining what information is appropriate or inappropriate
to share. Tell them to ask themselves how the predator can
use the requested information? Is it necessary for them to
have that information? Why?
4. Crossing the Bounds.
It is easy to explain to a child that a stranger is someone
they don't know in the real world, but online the definition
becomes blurred. Is a friend of a friend online, a stranger?
If you have communicated X number of times with someone, are
they still a stranger? Assist your children in drawing lines
about who is appropriate to communicate with, and who is not.
When talking to children about surfing online, it is important
to be honest with them. Children have to understand the dangers,
but should not live in fear. Balancing candor and fear might
be tricky, but you know your child best and keeping it real
will help them navigate and how to stay safe online.
Trust online is a funny thing, just because someone says something
is true does not mean that it is. Bloggers and online wikis
are dealing with credibility issues, yet individuals are often
trusted until proven untrustworthy.
7. Identifying Information.
Instruct your child NEVER to share any identifying information
that includes phone numbers and addresses. And finally, consider
how non-anonymous the web really is http://www.small-business-software.net/anonymity-of-internet.htm
Children should not swap photos online. Exchanging photos
is unnecessary and puts children at a higher level of risk.
Additionally digital photographs can easily be edited by a
third party. An explicit online photo can haunt a child for
Children should not complete profiles in blogging software
or social networks, like MySpace The profiles or hobbies can
often raise the interest of unwanted admirers.
10. Questionnaires/ Surveys.
Children should not complete questionnaires or surveys online.
The information requested may appear harmless, but you do
not know how the information will be used, it is good practice
to avoid completing any questionnaires or surveys.
It of course goes without saying that children should not
meet any individual that they converse with online.
12. Chat Rooms.
Chat rooms are playgrounds for sexual predators. The chat
room owners have no method to detect a lurking predator from
a child. As a result it is just a good practice to restrict
access to chat rooms.
13. Instant Messaging.
Adolescents and teenagers often want to communicate, whether
on the phone or via the Internet. Instant messaging is a popular
phenomenon for children. If you allow your child to communicate
using instant messaging, be sure to block instant messaging
from anyone unknown. Additionally, spot check their buddy
list to make sure that it has not been altered. Use a tool
like AOL where restrictions can be implemented.
14. Online Games.
Often online games, will contain a chat component. The same
rules that apply to instant messaging should apply to the
online games and chatting. Rarely are filters available for
the online games and many children will encounter strangers
who evolve into friends through online play. Be leery and
The Internet is global and not governed by any
single entity. There are no limitations. By creating clear
boundaries for your children they will be able to take advantage
of this amazing vehicle without putting themselves at risk.
About the Author:
Sharon Housley manages marketing for FeedForAll http://www.feedforall.com
software for creating, editing, publishing RSS feeds and podcasts.
In addition Sharon manages marketing for NotePage http://www.notepage.net
a wireless text messaging software company.