Just a generation ago, roller-skating, playing group sports, chumming with friends at the mall, doing homework at the library and watching television were common activities of children and adolescents. Advancements in technology have significantly altered the world as well as the experiences of childhood.
The internet has enriched the lives of many children. Social networking websites keep kids connected to friends and classmates after school. Rarely does homework require long library visits. Any internet-connected PC has access to the information needed for the completion of reports and research papers. However, despite these benefits, online connectivity poses numerous threats to children.
News headlines regarding internet-related child sex crimes inundate parents. Equally alarming are the reports that cyberbullying is on the rise. Incidents of cyberbullying have surpassed the occurrences of online sexual solicitation of children by pedophiles. Experts consider cyber-bullying the most common internet threat children will face.
Additionally, parents must somehow prevent their children from viewing websites that contain questionable content such as pornography and vulgar language. If that weren't enough, parents must also protect the family's PC from hacking, computer spyware, viruses and more.
Weighing the risks and benefits of a child's internet access is a challenging task. For most parents, child safety is a high priority. Parental software can assist in this safety quest. However, software alone is not enough. We have identified the top 10 ways to protect a child online.
Parental Computer Competency
In today's world, some children learn how to operate a computer during their preschool years. As they grow, they may acquire advanced skills. At a young age, many are adept at downloading and installing software, music and more. A child's technical abilities can quickly surpass their parent's knowledge of PC use and internet connectivity. Sometimes, a parent is clueless about the capabilities of an installed application. A parent lacking computer competency can inadvertently place their children at risk while they are online. Unsupervised software downloads can contain spyware, and viruses. Some file sharing and chat applications can expose children to internet-predators, cyberbullying, illegal software, pornography and more.
Before allowing a child to install an application, parents should take the time to read the app's user s manual and educate themselves about the software and its capabilities. Searching the internet for consumer reviews and comments about the product is also a good idea.
The above task may feel overwhelming for computer novices. However, basic computer competency is easy to achieve. Many school districts around the country offer community education classes on basic computer usage. Additional class offerings to watch for include internet access training, parental software, child internet safety, social networking and more. Usually, the fees for attending a community education class are free or nominal. For parents with limited time, some institutions offer online classes. Bookstores and libraries have numerous books on basic computer usage and online safety.
Teach that Internet Access is a Privilege, not a Right
The internet is abundant with useful information for schoolwork, research and more. Social networks, YouTube, streaming video and music have transformed the nature of entertainment for children and adults alike. Often children develop a sense of entitlement regarding internet access and consider it a necessity of life. Teaching children at an early age that internet access is a privilege may assist the parent in avoiding future internet-related behavioral problems.
Reinforce a child's good behavior by using internet access as a reward. Grant extra time for earning good grades, performing household chores, washing the dog, mowing the lawn and other extra tasks. Alternately, take away internet access for poor school performance, unruly behavior or failing to obey household rules.
Some parental software solutions come equipped with features that can restrict, block and schedule online access. This type of app can prevent a child from accessing the internet during normal sleep hours, during the school day and more. Additionally, some solutions can block the launching of computer applications, web browsers and chat software. Remember though, that parental software alone will not keep your child safe when they are online. Parents can implement additional safeguards as well.
Monitor all Child-Accessible Home Computers
A child with unlimited and unmonitored internet access is a catastrophe waiting to happen. Inform your children of their monitored status. Do let them know the reason behind the app's installation. Although it is useful for detecting unseemly behavior or lies, the software's primary purpose is to protect them from online predators, cyberbullies and questionable content. Tell them that you trust them, but are leery of the folks they may encounter online.
Refrain from telling your child the name of the parental software solution you plan to use. Older children may resent having a parent view their online activity. The internet is full of websites that have tutorials about how to circumvent and disable parental control applications. The likelihood of success increases dramatically if your child knows the exact name of the parental software you choose.
Keep the Child's Computer Out of their Bedroom
Like the television, many homes contain more than one computer. Also like the television, studies demonstrate that children spend too much time on the home PC. A child with a computer in their bedroom is apt to spend more time chatting, emailing friends, surfing and playing games than doing homework or sleeping. In a recent UK study, researchers found that two-thirds of children are sleep-deficient at school because they were up all night engaging in some type of online activity.
Isolated bedroom computer usage also opens the gates for online predators and cyberbullies. Locating a child's computer in a common area of the house facilitates better parental supervision. A centrally located PC increases the likelihood of a fast parental response should the child encounter cyberbullying or solicitation from an online sexual predator.
The internet is full of websites that can both harm and help your child. Parental software can assist with keeping your child out of harm's way. However, your youngster still needs more. Interactive parenting allows you to mentor your youngster and may nurture the parent-child relationship. At least twice a week, when your child is on the computer, pull up a chair and sit down beside them. Spend time together. Identify websites that are especially interesting and engaging for your child.
Pre-adolescent or teenage boys might have interests in camping, building model airplanes, fishing, NASCAR racing, chemistry, football or Dutch oven cooking. Girls may desire to learn about sewing, decorating, makeup, astronomy, baseball, meal planning or bicycling. Younger children may appreciate websites like sesamestreet.org, sproutonline.com or Disney.com. Name a topic or activity, and one can find it on the internet by performing an online search.
Encourage your child to use the website information to plan an offline family activity. Suggestions are meal planning, planning a vacation, sewing a clothing item, building a model plane. If one can imagine it, one is apt to find a tutorial for it on the internet.
Establish Rules that Define Behavior for Social Networks & Blogs
Social networking sites are popular. Many people, including the elderly, middle aged, corporate CEOs, the president of the United States and the very young have a social networking account. These types of sites keep friends and family connected. They can also be an open door for internet predators, con artists and cyberbullies.
Establishing rules that define behavior for social networks and blogs is an excellent idea. Below are a few examples that a parent could use to help keep a child safe during online social networking activities.
The child must have parental permission to open a social networking account.
The parent must have the username and passwords to all social networking accounts.
The child will add the parent as a friend.
The child cannot add any friends without the parent's permission.
The child will not list their sex, age, address, location, telephone number or school in their public profile.
The child will refrain from making derogatory or threatening statements to others.
The child will refrain from disclosing personal information about family issues or other problems that may arise.
- The child will not meet with someone in person unless a parent is present.
Cyberbullying is the most frequent threat a child encounters. Cyberbullying is a real problem. If not taken seriously, a tween or teen could face some grim consequences that may include isolation, depression, suicidal ideation and more. Parental software can record most instances of cyberbullying that occurs via chat or email. However, software is only one part of the solution.
Most email applications have the capability of blocking unwanted communications. Once blocking is set, the application blocks all mail from the designated email address. Additionally, most email apps allow a user to block all email that contains specific words, subjects and more. With blocking, the recipient is unaware of the bully's unwanted taunt. Teach your children how to block unwanted email. This email feature can block unwanted spam email and email that contains questionable content as well.
Many chat and instant-messaging applications come equipped with the ability to set specific user names, IP addresses and subnets on ignore. Often, a simple click of a mouse ends a bully's ability to taunt your teen. Sometimes, a cyberbully will move on to a new target if his or her taunts receive no rewarding response.
Talk Openly about Inappropriate Content & Images
Even the mere mentioning of the words pornography and sex stirs up controversy. For some, the topics are taboo. Others are uncertain how to approach the topic with their child. Whatever category you fall into, it is just a matter of time before your child stumbles across internet-related questionable content. Parental control software can assist in decreasing the chances of your child viewing graphic materials. However, these types of applications are imperfect. On occasion, dubious material may still get through.
Ignoring the topics doesn't assist a tween or teen in dealing with the subject matter when shocking images suddenly litter their inbox or an innocuous keyword results in a search engine leading them to an offending website. Talking frankly with your child about your own views, beliefs and values regarding pornography and sex is beneficial. During the conversation, convey to them that at some point they may encounter questionable content. If they do, encourage them to show you what they viewed and discuss the content and images calmly.
Teach Internet Stranger Danger
Internet anonymity is appealing to many. An individual can surf and search without interference for others. However, this cloak of obscurity can also act as a shroud of deception for internet predators. A parent's greatest fear is that an adult will succeed at sexually exploiting their vulnerable child. Teach your child that everyone they meet online is a stranger. Instruct that anyone can parade as a twelve-year-old friend, brain surgeon, lawyer or teacher. Communicating with someone via chat, email, VoIP, or other method of online communication does not make him or her less of a stranger.
Often pedophiles will pretend to be a child's peer. Over a period, they may attempt to lure the child into meeting with them offline. Sadly, some children, beguiled by attention from a sex-offender, might type unseemly comments in chat or expose themselves in pictures to the perpetrator. Using this as ammunition to force an offline meeting, the pedophile can threaten the child by saying things like, I will tell your Mom and Dad that you did something bad, or I will show your friends.
Using parental software can greatly increase the safety of your children by capturing and alerting you to these types of scenarios. However, your child needs more than just software. Make your child aware of these types of predatory-tactics. Calmly discuss with your youngster what could occur when meeting with a stranger from the internet. Above all else, reassure your child. Convey to them that no matter what has happened, even in the face of questionable behavior, you will still love them and stand by them.
Get Away from the Computer and Develop Real-life Memories
Parental software is an essential tool that can assist you in keeping your child safe online. However, spending time together is the best way to keep your child safe while they are online. Take the time to break away from the cyber-world and create some real-life memories that your child will cherish well into their adult years. Nurturing your relationship through a walk in the park, roller skating, hiking, bicycling will not only improve their fitness but will help yours as well.