You hear it every day on the local news: kids being abducted, harassed, molested and exploited on the internet. Just the thought of your child being approached by an adult with ill intentions online is enough to turn your stomach. But you think, “This could never happen to my child.” But could it? Statistics show that one in three adolescents is approached online by a complete stranger. But what can you do to protect your child?
First of all, remember that communication is a key element in maintaining internet security in your home. While your child may voice his or her disapproval of you knowing everything that they do while online, be adamant about checking your child’s internet footprints. Let the child know that you can see wherever they go, and who they talk to or correspond with. Knowing that you can see what they are doing, even if you aren’t over their shoulders all the time, can prevent many occurrences of risky behavior. If your child knows you are watching, the odds of your child posting private information or talking to strangers are greatly reduced. Here are some other tips to keep your child safe while using the internet:
Do not allow your child to have a computer with internet access in their bedroom, or anywhere else where privacy would be an issue. It seems harsh and untrusting, but it is important to remember that it’s not your child that you are worried about- it’s the potential strangers. Keeping your computer in a living room, kitchen or family area gives you the ability to keep an eye on your child’s internet whereabouts while doing other household functions.
Change the settings on instant messengers to allow incoming messages from people on your child’s friend list only, and ask your child who the people on their friend list are. Ask them these questions up front, and explain to them that it is not okay to talk to strangers while online.
Monitor your child’s MySpace page. This is the one we’re all hearing about on the news. MySpace is an online community of people, complete with pictures, biographies, personal information and location. Make sure your child’s page is set to private, which means that only people he or she knows can view the page. Ask them once again about everyone on their friends list and make sure that they physically know everyone on it. Scan the page for ANY personal information.
NEVER include personal information that might be able to tell a stranger where your child lives, goes to school, etc. Obviously, city names, school names, street names, phone numbers and addresses are off limits. School colors, mascots, event dates and even photos can give clues to where your child lives. (Think house numbers, street signs, license plate numbers, landmarks or local buildings.)
Ask for their passwords. Do it directly. If you can’t obtain them, setting your computer to remember all passwords entered can be of use. You can also create your own MySpace page and add your child as a friend. Ask your child to display you on their page, as this will deter predators.
Limit time on the computer. Less time is less risk. Allow your child access to the computer no more than one hour per day, unless homework proves necessary. With certain precautions, it is possible to keep your child safe on the internet. As a parent, it is important to remember your role in protecting your child, and you must go to any length necessary to do so. Communication is the best way to prevent trouble, so remember to have an open communication line with your teen or pre-teen. Respect them while keeping them safe and away from harm.