Extension Connection

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Internet Safety and Your Child

Photo of Karyn Mendoza

Karyn Mendoza

kmmen@illinois.edu

The Internet has been a wonderful addition to our society, but with it has come safety concerns. Specifically, concerns have been raised over Internet predators and child pornography on the Internet.

For this reason, it is important to be aware of how your child is using the Internet. As with any safety issue talk to all your children about the Internet and monitor their use. What they may see as harmless, could be serious. Find out if your adolescent likes to chat online. Who do they chat with? If they tell you they chat with friends, find out who these "friends" are. Some kids have online "friends" they have never met, which could be a potential risk if they decide to meet their online "friend."

Something else to consider is keeping the computer in a visible location. According to the Philadelphia Police Department, "the worst place to put a computer that a child will use to surf the Internet is in their room or other private place. Always place Internet connected computers in a common room so that you can monitor your child's Internet conduct. They will be less inclined to seek inappropriate content if they know you are watching over their shoulder."

The website www.safetykids.com, which is published by the Center for Missing and Exploited Children, is a useful tool for those who want to know more about Internet safety. It provides guidelines for parents, safety rules for kids, a family contract for online safety, and an e-mail newsletter.

According to the Center for Missing and Exploited Children, parents should take responsibility of their child's "online computer use." They suggest making the following a family rule (more of these Internet rules can be found on the above mentioned website):

  • Never give out identifying information–home address, school name, or telephone number–in a public message such as chat or bulletin boards, and be sure you're dealing with someone that both you and your child know and trust before giving it out via E-mail. Think carefully before revealing any personal information such as age, marital status, or financial information.
  • Never allow a child to arrange a face-to-face meeting with another computer user without parental permission.
  • Never respond to messages or bulletin board items that are suggestive, obscene, belligerent, threatening, or make you feel uncomfortable. Encourage your children to tell you if they encounter such messages. If you or your child receives a message that is harassing, of a sexual nature, or threatening, forward a copy of the message to your service provider and ask for their assistance.
  • Remember that people online may not be who they seem. Because you can't see or even hear the person it would be easy for someone to misrepresent him– or herself. Thus, someone indicating that "she" is a "12-year-old girl" could in reality be a 40-year-old man.
  • Set reasonable rules and guidelines for computer use by your children. Discuss these rules and post them near the computer as a reminder. Remember to monitor their compliance with these rules, especially when it comes to the amount of time your children spend on the computer. A child or teenager's excessive use of online services or bulletin boards, especially late at night, may be a clue that there is a potential problem.

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