The Internet can be a wonderful resource for children. It can be used by them to research school reports, communicate with teachers and peers, and play interactive, educational games. Any child who is old enough to punch in a few letters on the keyboard can literally access the entire world in the comfort of their home. While the Internet is a wonderful resource for learning, it is also full of dangers ranging from inappropriate content to cyber-stalkers lurking in chat rooms or social networking sites. The Internet presents with many challenging issues that parents never had to grapple with before.
For parents, supervising your kids on the Internet is a delicate and necessary task. The Internet has become a blessing and a curse, if you will. On one hand, you want to encourage your children to use the Internet to develop, communicate, and recreate all the while shielding them from very real dangers it comes with. The danger can range from cyber to physical and needs to be monitored carefully. For parents who may not be tech savvy, it can be a daunting task to supervise and provide appropriate guidance for kids. To make matters worse, children these days use the Internet as if it were a simple toy. It comes effortlessly to them, and this dumbfounds the parents and results in lack of adequate monitoring. Prince Basnyat, an Information Technology (IT) professional and university professor in the IT field, states that parents need to be able to navigate effortlessly, understand totally, and deal effectively all the contours, challenges, and peril that the entire package of Internet brings for their kids. It is in the parents’ control to make sure the good outweighs the bad when it comes to Internet safety for their children.
Although monitoring children’s Internet usage can seem overwhelming to a parent who lacks technology skills; however, it can be achieved with some willingness and diligence. The first step is for parents to become educated about the Internet. Prince Basnyat outlines three broad categories that the dangers fall into. They are referred as the 3 C’s: Content (pornography, racist content, inaccurate information), Contact (threatening e-mails and other cyberbullying, strangers in chat rooms, social networking sites like Facebook), and Commerce (the blur between advertising & legitimate content, invasions of privacy & SPAM).
The second step is for parents to understand the different ways children use the Internet. Parents typically use it for e-mails and web for research whereas young people use it to interactively chat, Instant Messaging (IM), music, games, tv shows, and movies. It is important to be involved in our children’s online activities, validate their skills, and learn from them. One common way parents and children seem to use the Internet today is using social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Friendster, etc. This avenue allows for people to stay connected with their loved ones, but also poses safety risks when people share information that may seem harmless until predators get hold of it (e.g. vacation time & spots, kids’ pictures, venting about the workplace, political views, etc). I am reminded of one incident someone shared with me about a couple they knew who posted their vacation time on a social networking site and their babysitter, who was supposedly a “friend” of theirs, arranged a robbery of their home while they were vacationing. It is one of those things in life you can not imagine happening to you until it does.
The third step is for parents to understand and explain the difference between knowledge and wisdom to their children. Knowledge refers to when children pick up technology quickly, but wisdom comes from understanding how to behave in a virtual world. Helping your children understand the context is key when technology is constantly bombarding us with new, important safety issues which children may not see. Above all, parents modeling for their children the appropriate usage behaviors can play a pivotal role in sending home the message. Parents are the most important and influential people (for better or worse) in a child’s life so using this power wisely will go a long way!
Tips to avoid potential pitfalls:
● Place the computer in a common area (e.g. family room) so parents can easily monitor
● Choose products with parental controls (e.g. games with recommended age)
● Each IM product asks you to fill out a profile of yourself. Be sure not to include private information such as phone number and address or school name.
● Never click on unknown or suspicious hyperlinks
● Never accept files (via e-mails, IM, downloading, etc.), or send them to people that you don’t know
● Never open any e-mails that look suspicious such as not knowing who the sender is
● Keep IM address secret in chat rooms
● Monitor your child’s Internet browsing habits regularly
● Never provide personal information in social networking sites such as date of births, social security numbers, phone numbers, home address, etc.
● Refrain from posting information that seem harmless, but can be used against you in some way or another (political views, negative comments about the workplace, vacation time and spots, children’s pictures, etc.)
● Be selective in who you allow to be your “friends” in social networking sites
● Remember always that every one of us is vulnerable in cyberspace, so take precaution and then enjoy technology!