A Parents Guide to the Online World
A Parents Guide to the Online World
Every year, more and more children from across the country head online. Although the Internet is an information tool that can educate and entertain, there are also major safety concerns. Parents should take the time to educate themselves and their children about Internet safety.
The fact is, parents should and must take a role in their child's Internet activities. Surfing the net is similar to any other activity. The Internet presents risks and dangers, just like riding a bike. A couple of years ago, the Internet was just beginning and teenagers and adults made up the majority of surfers, but now the age when users start to use the Internet has dropped, which means that younger kids can be found online. There are several things parents can do to make the Internet safer for their children.
When children are first starting out, it's important for parents to talk to them. Here are a couple of things you can do to encourage safe Internet use:
As Media Awareness Network education specialist Cathy Wing says, "Kids use the Internet mainly for entertainment purposes. They play games, instant message...and quite often they start losing track of time." The key is to have a set of rules on what they can do and cannot do and to enforce these rules. Using the Internet is just like any other household activity such as watching TV. There have to be limits and these limits must be set by the parents.
When you're dealing with teens, the tables turn and managing Internet use is a little different. Instead of supervising the young person's activities, the goal is to establish an open line of communication. Mrs. Wing suggests, "Good supervision when they're young, and good communication when they're old." Monitoring a youth's Internet activities is simply not going to happen. Youth do not need to be babied; they need to see that you trust them. All of the guidelines above apply to youth as well, but teenagers do not want, and often do not need, their parents looking over their shoulder. A dialogue with your teens about what they're doing online should be fine.
Parents often lack knowledge about their child's activities in terms of the programs that their children are using online. The Internet is more than a simple computer tool, and chances are your child is using new technologies with which you're not familiar. We've put together a list of the basic Internet tools that kids are using today.
MSN, AOL, Yahoo and several other companies provide instant messengers (IM) that allow your kids to communicate in real-time with friends and strangers around the world. IM has features of both chat rooms and e-mail. Once your child connects to the internet, any IM "friends" (people you have added to your contact list) can send a message to your child, instantly talking to them one-on-one. Most kids talk to their school friends using this software, but many also talk to strangers, since it is popular to create the biggest list of contacts or "friends" possible. Users also create online profiles as part of the registration for an IM service that cyberpredators can then use to target a child. The key here is to be aware of who's on your child's contact list and to emphasize to your child not to give out any personal details (including a photo) on their IM profile.
Chat rooms are found everywhere online and range from moderated rooms to rooms where anything can be discussed. In these virtual rooms, people can have real-time conversations with multiple, anonymous people at once. Chat rooms can be a great way to meet people from all over the world, but there is no way of knowing the true identity of the person with whom you're chatting. Children and youth tend to go in unmoderated "teen" rooms. However, even in moderated chat rooms, youth can engage in private unmoderated chats with strangers. The pivotal idea here is to make sure that your kids are using chat rooms safely. Teach them to never use their real name online, but to also use an appropriate nickname to avoid the wrong kind of attention (sexyteen66 is not an appropriate name!). Encourage the use of moderated teen chat rooms and discourage the use of private unmoderated conversations in these rooms.
Like chat rooms, newsgroups, forums and message boards are geared towards reaching people with a common interest. You can find communities catering to health, education, hobbies, musical interests, celebrities, and much more. However, unlike chat rooms, messages are posted to the forums similar to the way e-mail works. The conversations that follow do not take place in real time. It's important to explain to your children that all messages posted in forums, message boards and newsgroups are public and anyone can read them and respond to them. Personal information should never be given out.
A blog is a short form for a "web log." Some popular blogging sites are Piczo, LiveJournal and Myspace. Blogging is one of the newest and hippest additions to the Internet. Blogs are like online journals, but can also include web links, images and video. Unlike a traditional diary, anyone online can read your blog, and often people can leave messages for you. The concern here is that some youth share too much personal information in their blog, such as hometown, school, friends' names, family information and addresses, or use their blog to spread malicious rumours and gossip about peers. Personal information can be used by a predator to bully, lure or stalk the blog's creator. Youth should be cautioned not to post personal information in their blog, especially since it can remain on the Internet for years.
The Internet is a valuable tool for Canadian adults, youth, and children. It has plenty of useful information and many online services that are of major benefit. There are, however, plenty of risks associated with these new Internet technologies. Be aware of new online technologies and how your children are using them. If children and youth use the Internet properly with parental supervision and/or communication, the Internet can continue to be an exciting information tool.
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