As the school year begins to wind down, you will find that your children might be using their home computers and the Internet more than usual. While the Internet is a great tool for kids to get homework assistance and chat with friends, it does have a dark side that needs to be monitored.
Most kids online have good experiences. But children and teens can become targets for exploitation, crime and harassment. The good news is, we parents can take a step in the right direction by teaching our children basic Internet safety and by monitoring its use.
In addition to the threat of sexual predators, children also may view material that is violent, harassing or sexual on the Web. Additionally, children – especially tweens and teens – are curious about sexuality and may seek out and easily find this inappropriate material themselves. Following are some signs that your child could be at risk:
- Your child spends a lot of time on the Internet and is secretive about his or her computer activities.
- Your child switches screens or turns the monitor off when you approach the computer.
- Your child gets phone calls and/or packages from people you do not know or is making long-distance or collect calls.
- Your child is more interested in spending time on the computer than being with friends and has become isolated from your family.
To reduce the risk of your child encountering inappropriate people or material through the Internet:
- Keep the computer in a common area of the house, such as the living room, where you can easily monitor your child’s Internet activities.
- Set reasonable rules for Internet use and post the rules near the computer. Some of the rules may include: when the computer can be used and for what purposes, the maximum amount of time spent on the computer each day and what to do if the child sees something that makes him or her uncomfortable.
- Communicate openly with your child about his or her Internet usage. Spend time with your child while he or she is on the Internet and talk about the benefits and dangers of the Internet.
- Make sure your child understands that he or she never should give anyone personal information or send digital photos. Children need to know that posting information about the school they attend is included in the list of personal information. It’s not just name, address and phone number.
- Your child’s e-mail address and screen name never should reveal information such as age, last name or the city where you live.
- If you are not familiar with computers, take a basic class and spend time learning about the Internet with your child. Find out what type of parental controls are available from your Internet provider.
- Maintain access to your child’s online account and randomly check his or her e-mail.
- Report any disturbing incidents to your local law enforcement, Internet service provider or www.cybertipline.com.
The Internet is a wonderful resource for children. By keeping these safety tips in mind, you can help ensure that your child has the best online experience possible. The Cap Fund Web site has a variety of parenting tips you can download at www.capfund.org. Here is the Internet Safety sheet for parents. I hope you find it useful!
The Child Abuse Prevention Fund is a fundraising initiative of Children’s Hospital and Health System. Since 1988, the organization has distributed more than $9.2 million to support community-based child abuse prevention initiatives throughout Wisconsin.
Read more blog posts by Jennifer Hammel.