The internet can be a scary place. If you are a parent, the internet can be a very scary place. The internet is terrifying both for the information that can come in and what can go out. Examples of how scary information that might come in are: perpetrators trying to contact your kids, “inappropriate” information they can access (violence and pornography to name a couple of topics), and bullying they may receive from others both known and unknown. Examples of what might go out from your child is: private and personal information your child may knowingly or unknowingly share with others, bullying your child may commit against another person, and photos your child may post of themselves or others.
This potential flow of information back and forth is enough to cause a parent to want to ban the internet all together. I am going to advise against a complete internet embargo. What I do recommend is supervision. Be involved with your children while they are interacting on the internet. You have an opportunity to teach them to appropriately use the internet. Let me give an analogy. As their teen approaches the age when they can begin to learn to drive, many parents become terrified. Should parents ban their teens from learning to drive to protect them from any potential future car accident? Heck, no. Use your time while they are under your influence and you can supervise them to teach them how to drive safely. Make sure they take the required training courses, spend time with them in the car observing their developing skills, remind them about important safety skills (i.e., no texting or phone calls), and encourage them to practice with appropriate supervision.
How does this translate to internet safety? Have them use the internet with appropriate supervision, observe their internet use and discuss important internet safety rules. Internet rules you can give to your children include:
- Personal Information. Don’t give out personal information without your parents’ permission. This means you should not share your last name, home address, school name, or telephone number. Remember, just because someone asks for information about you does not mean you have to tell them anything about yourself!
- Screen Name. When creating your screen name, do not include personal information like your last name or date of birth.
- Passwords. Don’t share your password with anyone but your parents. When you use a public computer make sure you logout of the accounts you’ve accessed before leaving the terminal.
- Photos. Don’t post photos or videos online without getting your parents’ permission.
- Online Friends. Don’t agree to meet an online friend unless you have your parents’ permission. Unfortunately, sometimes people pretend to be people they aren’t. Remember that not everything you read online is true.
- Online Ads. Don’t buy anything online without talking to your parents first. Some ads may try to trick you by offering free things or telling you that you have won something as a way of collecting your personal information.
- Downloading. Talk to your parents before you open an email attachment or download software. Attachments sometimes contain viruses. Never open an attachment from someone you don’t know.
- Bullying. Don’t send or respond to mean or insulting messages. Tell your parents if you receive one. If something happens online that makes you feel uncomfortable, talk to your parents or to a teacher at school.
- Social Networking. Many social networking websites (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Second Life and MySpace) and blog hosting websites have minimum age requirements to signup. These requirements are there to protect you!
- Research. Talk to your librarian, teacher or parent about safe and accurate websites for research. The public library offers lots of resources. If you use online information in a school project make sure you explain where you got the information.