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How to Protect Children Online

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Anyone whose children use the Internet feels caught in a technology paradox. On the one hand, they know how important it is for children to experience new technologies and the wonderful benefits they offer. On the other hand, parents are afraid of the dangers in cyberspace. In many cases, kids are more technologically advanced than adults, so some parents may feel intimidated and refrain from enforcing rules that are imperative to protect their children as they surf and socialize online.

Fortunately, security software is available that can restrict what kids see and do on the web, taking a lot of pressure off parents to stay current with every new risk. But it’s still important that parents get involved with their kids’ online lives, and make sure that their children know how to act and how to react to what they see on the web.

What Are the Biggest Online Risks?

Meeting a predator online ranks among the worst dangers children face today, but there are many other online experiences that can result in inappropriate or illegal activity. Kids need to be told that not everything they read online is true, and that there is a lot of material on the web that is not meant for them. There are fascist sites, pornography sites, drug sites, and other explicit content that an unprotected child can easily view. Fortunately, there are filtering technologies, child-safe browsers and search engines that restrict where they can surf.

Web Sites and Chat Rooms

Loss of privacy is a big risk. Kids must be shown how important it is to protect their personal information and the information of their family and friends. Many child-oriented web sites solicit information from kids in surveys and forms in exchange for prizes, and get them to register online for fan clubs. In chat rooms, sharing their gender, age, and favorite hangout could seem harmless, but predators can easily use this information to track down the child.

Digital prowlers masquerade as children in order to gather information and ultimately meet their unsuspecting victims. But kids also flirt and pretend to be older than they actually are, not thinking about the potential results of such actions.

It is also common for kids to get into online fights or become the target of bullying via email, chat, and instant messaging, especially when they are of middle school age.

Blogs and Social Networking

Blogs and social networking sites such as MySpace are places where kids sometimes share too much information—not only names and addresses but also personal photos that sometimes show illegal acts, such as underage drinking. Ask your kids to share their blogs or online profiles with you so you can check the content. You can also use Google, along with the search tools on social networking sites, to search for profiles your child may have posted. Use your child’s full name, phone number, and other identifying information.

P2P File Sharing

Peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing invites new privacy problems. These programs allow people to browse and download files from Internet-connected personal computers of anyone else who uses the same program. This makes it easy for cyber criminals to spread viruses, Trojan horses, and spyware. Kids can also accidentally download pornography that is labeled misleadingly.

What Can A Parent Do?

Parents can protect their children from online threats. Sitting down with your kids and reviewing these 10 rules with them will ensure a worry-free experience that fosters learning and understanding.

Top 10 Ways to Protect Your Kids Online

  1. Monitor your children's use of the Internet. Put the computer in a high-traffic family area and limit nighttime use. Also, check out online child safety monitoring software like IMSafer.
  2. Fortify your computer with strong security software and make sure to keep it up to date. The McAfee® Internet Security Suite guarantees protection from viruses, hackers, and spyware. It filters offensive content, pictures, and web sites. The anti-virus software will also protect your computer from viruses and spyware by automatically scanning email attachments and files downloaded from P2P file-sharing sites. For the most complete way to keep your children safe online, use McAfee Family Protection. It keeps children of all ages safe from exposure to inappropriate content, social networking risks, strangers, and other online threats. With McAfee, kids are free to safely explore, learn, and enjoy their online interests.
  3. Make sure kids understand basic rules for using social networking sites such as MySpace and blogs. They should guard their passwords, and never post personally identifying information or inappropriate photos. Blogs and social networking sites offer privacy tools that can be turned on to restrict potentially dangerous users. The sites automatically provide these protective tools to kids under 15. Kids should share information only with people they know from the real world.
  4. It’s imperative that your kids let you know if they arrange in-person meetings with people they meet online. Before any such meeting, you should confirm the person’s identity, and you should accompany your child to the meeting in a public place.
  5. When using P2P file-sharing programs, kids should not download files from users whom they don’t know. They could be downloading infected files, pictures, games, and music that are inappropriate, or media files protected by copyright law. Kids should not allow users to upload their music files unless they’re certain that they have permission to share them. You can disable the upload feature so that your kids don't inadvertently share files without permission. The University of Chicago offers instructions for disabling the upload feature in most file-sharing programs.
  6. Don’t allow kids to fill out online forms or surveys. If there is a legitimate site where they want to register, such as Nickelodeon or Disney, have them come to you first so you can check the site’s privacy policy and rules of conduct.
  7. Only allow your children to use monitored chat rooms, and have them use a screen name that doesn’t hint at their true identity. As with blogs and MySpace, kids should never reveal personal information or share photos. Make sure they understand that people can lie about who they are and that online friends are still strangers.
  8. Teach your kids to ignore emails and instant messages from people they don’t know. They should never open attachments they are not expecting nor click on links in messages. As with blogs and MySpace, they should not send out personal information. Configure your child’s instant messaging application correctly to make sure it does not open automatically when they fire up their computer. Have them turn off the computer and disconnect the DSL or modem line when they’re not using it.
  9. Use browsers for kids and kid-oriented search engines. Children’s browsers such as Kid Browser 1.1 do not display inappropriate words or images. It comes pre-loaded with kid-safe web sites and pre-set word filters. You only need to make sure you approve, and review the default web sites and words. Kid-oriented search engines including Ask for Kids and Yahooligans perform limited searches and screen search results. There is a great list of engines at Search Engine Watch. The site also tells you how to turn on parental controls in regular search engines including Google, HotBot, and MSN Search.
  10. Let your kids find appropriate and helpful web sites using lists put together by experts in the field. The American Library Association has a very good list, The ALA Great Web Sites for Kids. First Gov for Kids has government-related children sites and also lists groups of kid-friendly sites. Fact Monster is an excellent reference site, packed with information and homework help.


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