Safety precautions for young Web surfers

Metro Editorial
Posted

Parents have worried about their children since the beginning of time. Such worry is part of being a parent, and parents will worry about things both large and small.

One relatively recent concern for parents involves the Internet. Over the last 10 to 15 years, the Internet has become established as a must-have in homes. Parents go online for a number of reasons, and kids are now often required to use the Internet as part of their schoolwork.

But as useful and convenient as the Internet can be, it can also prove dangerous, particularly for young kids. Criminals who prey on children have taken their acts online, counting on kids' innocent and trusting natures in order to take advantage of children, which can lead to emotional and/or physical harm.

Parents have every right to worry when their kids go online. However, there are ways to safeguard kids from some of the Internet's ills.

* Emphasize the protection of personal information. Many Web sites ask visitors to fill out certain forms when visiting. When discussing the Internet with kids, tell them to inform an adult whenever they visit a Web site that requests they fill out a form or questionnaire before continuing to the site. All Web sites must tell their visitors how personal information is used, but kids often cannot understand the privacy policy or will immediately click the "Agree" box below the policy.

Since kids don't have their own credit cards, protecting personal information should be discussed in terms of popular social networking sites. Caution kids against sharing too much information, which could potentially make them susceptible to online predators.

* Preach caution in chat rooms. Kids can be especially susceptible to the dangers of the Internet when they enter chat rooms. If parents are going to allow kids to enter chat rooms or contribute to online message boards, go over a few basics with them beforehand. First and foremost, tell them to never share their address, full name or phone number with anyone in the chat room. Also, ensure kids never arrange to meet up with anyone from chat rooms. If kids do make a few online friends they want to meet in person, always be sure to accompany them to any such meetings and insist on meeting their new friends' parents as well. When meetings do take place, they should always be in a public place, such as a library.

* Limit time spent online. The Internet can be a valuable resource, but spending too much time online can be just as detrimental as spending too much time on the couch watching television. Limit the amount of time kids are allowed to spend online. The longer kids are on the computer, the more likely they are to drift toward Web sites where their safety can be compromised. If kids only get a set amount of time to surf the Internet, they're more likely to visit only those sites they need to and not ones that can put them in harm's way.

* Keep the computer in the family room. Keeping the family computer in the family room, where Mom and Dad can monitor kids' online usage without peering over their shoulders, is another way to safeguard kids from the Internet. If kids have their own computers, be it a desktop or laptop, in their bedrooms, then parents might never truly know what their kids are doing online. High schoolers might be able to handle having a computer in their bedrooms, but younger children should be restricted to using the family computer in an area where their Internet habits can be easily monitored.