When the Internet first came on the scene way back when, most of us were amazed at the way the new technology would bring so many people and ideas together. We may not have considered that having the Internet in your home was a bit like having an open house party where anyone could come wandering in.
Most of us have had at least one creepy encounter online, or have stumbled upon material that was offensive or upsetting. As adults, we handle it and move on, but when we become parents we find ourselves responsible for the delicate, developing minds of children who probably spend more time online than we do.
Children have a strong Internet presence. They play games online, do research for homework and projects and interact with their friends. Individuals and companies who target children know this, and have created countless ways to get our kids' attention.
Sexual predators are the biggest worry, but they're not the only problem. Children stalk, bully and slander each other via the Internet, and companies vie for your child's loyalty and their personal household information.
Our kids grew up with Internet technology and many of them feel that they're savvy enough to deal with whatever they may find as they surf the World Wide Web. The statistics show that this isn't the case:
- 1 in 5 U.S. teenagers who regularly log on to the Internet say they have received an unwanted sexual solicitation on the Internet.
- 42% of kids have been bullied while online.
- 75% of children are willing to share personal information online about themselves and their family in exchange for goods and services.
The first line of defense against Internet dangers is open communication and cooperation between parents and their kids. Children should be educated about possible online dangers and should know that their best weapons against inappropriate online interaction is their common sense and their ignore button.
Parents should monitor the sites and programs children are using, and set limits on Internet time.
There are Web safety enhancement products on the market that can be used in addition to parental communication and supervision to help keep your child's online experience secure.
One way to set some limits on what your kids run into online is to install parental control software. This type of software blocks certain sites or types of sites from being accessed.
Net Nanny is one of the oldest parental control systems available. This flexible, user-friendly product blocks 8 categories of undesirable Web sites, helping keep your kids safe and your mind at ease.
If you have children in a wide range of ages they probably each need different Web protection settings and Net Nanny can be programmed so that each child has a separate account.
This product also records chat room and instant message conversations, which can come in handy when you want to check up on your kids or if you need evidence in a stalking or bullying situation.
Webroot Parental Control is a similar product to Net Nanny. It restricts undesirable websites and also has an auto-logoff feature that limits a child's time online. Webroot has pre-configured Web safety settings for 4 different age ranges. It can also be custom-programmed.
Kid-friendly browsers limit where children can go online, and they also highlight positive, educational sites where kids can explore and learn.
KidZui is a kid-safe browser that can be "layered" on top of a mainstream browser. Once installed, the KidZui browser screen can't be exited without a password. The browser takes up the entire computer screen, which is an added bonus for parents of kids who like to click around and cause mischief on the computer.
Buddy Browser is a multi-faceted kid-safe browser that offers filtering of inappropriate content, safe social networking, time limits and more. The graphics on this browser are very colorful and fun, and young kids will love it.
One great feature of Buddy Browser is its ad-free function. Parents who worry about excessive consumerism, or who simply don't want their child tempted to enter personal information in exchange for products will find this feature invaluable.
Kids love to look at funny and cute videos on YouTube, but nearly all parents have run across items in the "related video" bar that aren't related to anything a child should see.
Totlol is an online video site that offers only child-appropriate material. It's powered by YouTube, so it has a similar look to the popular video site. The one drawback is that it's somewhat limited in its number of videos. The site also charges a $3 per month fee for membership.Kideos is a similar site that offers videos appropriate for kids. You can search videos by age category. There is a fee to use some features of this site.
Parents who are familiar with the uses and challenges of the Internet are much better equipped to address these issues with their children.
Lots of online safety organizations offer Internet safety education for parents. These programs can be used by anyone, but are especially useful for parents who are not experienced Internet users or those who need a crash course in the favorite online youth hangouts, Internet slang and other up-to-date information.
Many of these programs are accessible online, free for use by parents and offer extensive information.
Getnetwise.org is a comprehensive site that includes articles, tips, instructional videos, a glossary and more. Parents will come away with a much better understanding of the Internet and how to keep their kids safe in the online world.
NetSmartzKidz.org is the children's page of NetSmartz.org, an organization dedicated to teaching online safety and positive online interaction. NetSmartzKidz is designed with children in mind. It features bright colors, games and videos, all of which communicate the message of Internet safety.
There is also a slightly more mature version of this site that's geared to tweens and teens and features graphics and games for that age group.
With your guidance and all these great Internet safety tools, your kids can enjoy the Internet as the enriching vehicle for learning, socializing and fun it was intended to be.