The Internet is a great source of information and allows us to connect easily with many people around the globe. For kids, like adults, the Internet is a fascinating world of discoveries, great exploration and yes, some danger. Like many other areas of life, in order to appreciate the "light" of the Internet, we need to have some "darkness".
There are horrible stories of abuse and even death through misuse of connections formed on the Internet. Sneaky people exist on the Internet as much as they do in any other place society and they abuse their right to participate and become a risk to our children. Education is the answer, I say (surprise, surprise :D ).
Educating yourself about the Internet can help you a lot to help your kids become aware of the advantages and disadvantages of using the Internet. Here are some key things you can do:
- Learn the Internet Jargon to allow you to be involved and not left out. Find information on key Internet terms, like antivirus, blacklisting, browser, chat, firewall, forum, peer to peer (P2P), social networking, bookmarking, blog, spam, URL, VoIP…
- Talk to your children about some of the dangers online. People online can pretend to be any person of any age and profession they want. On the Internet, every person can choose a fake name and even a fake photo. Make them aware of the fact that on the Internet people are not always who they say they are. Emphasise to them never to agree to meet any person they have met online without your permission. Make sure you do not over-generalise and let them know that most people are OK. Making kids afraid of everybody is not good for them either.
- Place the home computer in a central family area to allow yourself to supervise and to minimise inappropriate usage. This way, if your child has a question, they are also more likely to consult you.
- Help your young children find good sites and place them in their favorites list so they can revisit them easily. Some sites are especially designed for children.
- Give your kid their own email address from as early as you can. Use their email address to teach them to never reply to an email from someone they do not know. Explain to them what spam (unsolicited email) is and that replying to some of them might place viruses on the computer or allow someone to abuse their email address.
- Teach your children never to give their personal details to anyone and explain what personal details are dangerous to give people they do not know: photograph, home address, date of birth, phone number, school name or anything else that can be used to identify them offline.
- Teach your kids about passwords and why they should never give their password to any person.
- Consider using filters to block access to inappropriate sites.
- Teach your kids to say “no” when they feel uncomfortable with any communication on the Internet and to let you know when they feel this way.
- If you have kids in different ages, create different settings for different users to allow you to match the content to the child’s age.
- Bullying on the Internet is increasing. Encourage your children to avoid contact with bullies and never to reply to bullying messages.
- If things get out of hand, help your kid change their user name and email account and advise them only to give it to close friends.
- Install antivirus software to protect you and your children’s information. Some viruses erase valuable information and if your children do their assignments or homework on their computer, lots of information could get lost.
- Scams are very popular on the Internet. Make sure what they download is monitored. They may download games with spyware – programs that collect information from your computer and use it to access private information, like bank details, passwords, email address and other essential information you do not want any one to know. Most antivirus programs now come with spyware protection, but it still needs to be configured appropriately.
Your children are going to use the Internet more and more. Some schools experiment with “laptop programs”, in which subjects are learnt through the Internet. The Internet is a whole world with advantages and disadvantages. Until our kids grow up and take responsibility over their use of the Internet, it is our responsibility, as parents, to protect them and educate them about its safe usage.
In the ocean of Internet information, our children are going to have to learn to swim, but until they are safe swimmers, teach them to swim between the flags.