The Internet is an amazing source of information and resources. It is used daily in nearly every home and public school across the nation. Many of the younger generation don’t even know what an encyclopedia is. Books-in-print are often out-dated by the time they reach your book shelf. The Internet is real-time and can be updated daily, or even hourly. The days of waiting for a story to come out in the newspaper the next day are gone. In a big city news is updated hourly or even more often in some cases. The Internet is truly an incredible resource.
However, the very fact that anyone can add content that is readily available to everyone, also makes it a very scary place. Online predators can hide behind a computer screen and no one knows who they are or what their intentions may be. Unfortunately children and teens are the most targeted victims of these online predators because of their innocence. Online safety for children and teenagers has become such a big concern that the FBI has even created a Parent’s Guide to Internet Safety. Online predators often befriend individuals through social networking sites like MySpace or Facebook or through some other online chat program. They talk to them about things the kids are interested in: music, TV, movies, anything they show any interest in. They may send virtual gifts to the child or teen, making them feel important and cared about. Then gradually start to introduce the idea that they are “in love” with the individual, that they want to run away with them and take care of them, etc. All this new found attention may be exactly what a teenager thinks they need.
Unfortunately, this type of interaction is rarely, if ever, real and genuine. It is most likely a trap used to lure this innocent, unsuspecting individuals into the confidence of very dangerous predators. Our natural instincts help us, when meeting someone face-to-face, to sense lies, danger, and uncomfortable situations. Using the Internet as a meeting place takes away the ability for our natural instincts to sense these problems. When we can’t see, hear, smell, or touch our understanding of a situation is drastically reduced. Think of discovering a new food. No matter how much someone tells you about it, describes it to you, shows you pictures of it, etc. you can not experience what that food is like until you see it, smell it, touch it, and finally taste it for yourself. Even though someone may have told you it is the best thing in the world and that you are going to love it more than anything you have ever had, you may discover that you don’t care for it at all and that in fact it is the worst thing you have ever had.
Understanding the dangers is only the first step in helping to keep your children and teens safe. Finding a way to allow them to use the good resources available on the Internet while protecting them from the bad can be very difficult. Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Install a Internet filter on your computer – this is a software that will help protect anyone from viewing pornographic or harmful material online. Some popular ones include: NetNanny, CYBERsitter, Safe Eyes, and PureSight. Having a child or teen stumble upon such content accidentally is very scary, this $20-$50 investment is priceless.
- Keep all computers in a public area. Do not allow teens or children to have a computer in their room or even take a laptop to their room to work on homework. You should be able to see what your child is doing online at all times.
- If you choose to allow your children to have their own email acccounts, social networking accounts, or use chat rooms, make sure you have access to them and check them periodically. Watch for a lot of messages from people you do not know or that your teen does not know in person.
- Most important, talk to your kids. Help them understand all the dangers that are on the Internet. Help them to understand that what seems real, may not be. Set hard and fast rules about what is acceptable Internet use (including if they are allowed to use the Internet at a friends house). Using a parent contract could be very helpful for setting rules and consequences.
If you don’t understand the Internet or how any of it works, take classes and learn. Your child/teens safety is absolutely vital. You can not protect them from something you do not understand. Be very vigilant when it comes to any use of technology, cell phone use (with text and picture messaging) is becoming just as dangerous. Educate yourself and then educate your kids. Don’t just tell them it is dangerous and they need to be careful, that isn’t enough. Be involved every single day in your children and teenagers Internet and technology use.