Think of the Internet as a big city. In a big city, there are many nice places to visit and nice people to meet. There are museums to explore and movies to watch. There are places to go to make new friends. But, also like a big city, there are dangers: predators, violence, pornography.
Would you let your children run around a large metropolitan area unattended without any guidance from you on what and who to avoid? One of the first cautions parents give their children is, “Don’t talk to strangers.” Why should the Internet be taken any more lightly?
You probably already have a set of rules in place for your children on what they are allowed to watch on television or what video games they are allowed to play. Consider also creating a list of family rules for the Internet . Set clear guidelines on what sites they are or are not allowed to visit, how much time they are allowed to spend, and whether or not they are allowed to communicate with others online.
Make sure your children understand the following safety measures:
- Keep the computer in a common family room, not in a child’s bedroom. Keep open communication between you and your children about the Internet. Let them know they can come to you if they find something offensive or have a question about something they found.
- Report anything that is suspicious looking:
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (www.missingkids.org or 1-800-843-5678) — report any online child pornography, obscene material sent to your child, or other adult harassment of your child.
- Technological guidelines will be discussed later in this guide, but consider installing some sort of filtering software or other program to help prevent access to adult sites.
- Consider installing a virus protection program such as Norton Antivirus (symantec.com) or McAfee (mcafee.com).
- Be sure to let your children know that some e-mails contain harmful hidden programs. If there is an attachment to an e-mail, do not let them open it without a parent looking at it first. If it looks suspicious or comes from someone unknown to you, delete it. Also caution your children against downloading any free software or games from the Internet without your approval.
- If your children have their own e-mail or other communication account, do not let them set up a public profile, which provides information such as hobbies or location to others.
- Never let your children give out personal information to others. This includes their real name, where they live, school name, or other identifiable details.
- Never share passwords with others online or even friends.
- Make sure they understand they are never to agree to meet with an online friend in person by themselves. However, if you approve of your child meeting a particular friend, make sure you accompany them and the meeting is held in a public place. Let your children know that not everyone they meet online is a nice person or is even honest about who they really are.
- If they find a message that makes them uncomfortable, tell them they should stop talking to that person (whether it’s by e-mail, chat, message board, etc.), and tell you immediately.
- Help them understand that Internet communication is just a different form of talking to a real person. Just because the person is not in the same room is not an excuse to be rude or say things they normally wouldn’t tell someone in person.
While at a minimum your children should verbally be told what they can and cannot do online, consider also having a printed list of rules that everyone in your family signs. You can start by using this Family Internet Contract.