The Internet can be a
wonderful resource for kids. They can use it to research
school reports, communicate with teachers and other kids, and
play interactive games. Any child who is old enough to punch
in a few letters on the keyboard can literally access the
But that access can also
pose hazards to your children. For example, your 8-year-old
might log on to a search engine and type in the word "Lego."
But with just one missed keystroke, he or she might enter the
word "Legs" instead, and be directed to thousands of websites
with a focus on legs - some of which may contain pornographic
That's why it's important
to be aware of what your children see and hear on the
Internet, who they meet, and what they share about themselves
Just like any safety
issue, it's a good idea to talk with your kids about your
concerns, take advantage of resources to protect them from
potential dangers, and keep a close eye on their
A federal law has been
created to help protect your kids while they are using the
Internet. It is designed to keep anyone from obtaining your
kids' personal information without you knowing about it and
agreeing to it first.
The Children's Online
Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) requires websites to explain
their privacy policies on the site and get parents' consent
before collecting or using a child's personal information,
such as a name, address, phone number, or social security
number. The law also prohibits a site from requiring a child
to provide more personal information than necessary to play a
game or contest.
But even with this law,
your child's best online protection is you. By talking to your
child about potential online dangers and monitoring his or her
computer use, you'll be helping your child to surf the
Online Tools to
Protect Your Child
There are online tools
that you can use to control your child's access to adult
material and help protect your child from Internet predators.
No option is going to guarantee that your child will be kept
away from 100% of the risks on the Internet. So it's important
that you be aware of your child's computer activity and
educate your child about the online risks.
Many Internet service
providers (ISPs) provide parent-control options to block
certain material from coming in to your child's computer.
There is also software that can help block your child's access
to certain sites based on a "bad site" list that your ISP
creates. Filtering programs can block sites from coming in and
restrict your child's personal information from being sent
online. You can also find programs to monitor and track your
child's online activity. Also, it's a good idea to create a
screen name for your child to protect his or her real
in Your Child's Online Activities
Aside from these tools,
it's a good idea to take an active role in protecting your
child from Internet predators and sexually explicit materials
that are online. Here are some steps that can help you do
- Become computer
literate and learn how to block objectionable material.
- Keep the computer in a
common area, not in individual bedrooms, where you can watch
and monitor your child.
- Share an email account
with your child so you can monitor messages.
- Bookmark your child's
favorite sites for easy access.
- Spend time online
together to teach your child appropriate online behavior.
- Forbid your child from
entering private chat rooms; block them with safety features
provided by your Internet service provider or with special
filtering software. Be aware that posting messages to chat
rooms reveals your child's email address to others.
- Monitor your credit
card and phone bills for unfamiliar account charges.
- Find out what, if any,
online protection is offered by your child's school,
after-school center, friends' homes, or any place where he
or she could use a computer without your supervision.
- Take your child
seriously if he or she reports an uncomfortable online
- Forward copies of
obscene or threatening messages you or your child receives
to your Internet service provider.
- Call the National
Center for Missing and Exploited Children at (800) 843-5678
if you are aware of the transmission, use, or viewing of
child pornography online. Contact your local law enforcement
agency or the FBI if your child has received child
pornography via the Internet.
Many sites use "cookies,"
devices that track specific information about the user, such
as name, email address, and shopping preferences. Cookies can
be disabled. Ask your Internet service provider for more
It's also a good idea to
set up some simple rules for your kids to follow while they're
using the Internet. These rules may include:
- Follow the rules you
set, as well as those set by your Internet service provider.
- Never trade personal
photographs in the mail or scanned photographs over the
- Never reveal personal
information, such as address, phone number, or school name
or location. Use only a screen name. Never agree to meet
anyone from a chat room in person.
- Never respond to a
threatening email or message.
- Always tell a parent
about any communication or conversation that was scary.
- If your child has a new
"friend," insist on being "introduced" online to that
A chat room is a virtual
online room where a chat session takes place. Chat rooms are
set up according to interest or subject, such as skiing or a
favorite TV show. Because people can communicate to each other
alone or in a group, chat rooms are among the most popular
destinations on the Web - especially for kids and
But there are hazards to
chat rooms for kids. There have been incidents where kids met
"friends" who were interested in exploiting them through chat
rooms. No one knows how common chat-room predators are, but
pedophiles (adults who are sexually interested in children)
are known to frequent chat rooms.
These predators sometimes
prod their online acquaintances to exchange personal
information, such as addresses and phone numbers, thus putting
the kids they are chatting with - and their families - at
Many pedophiles pose as
teenagers in chat rooms. Because many kids have been told by
parents not to give out their home phone numbers, pedophiles
may encourage kids to call them; with caller id, the offenders
instantly have the kids' phone numbers.
Warning Signs That
Your Child May Be a Victim
There are warning signs
that your child is being targeted by an online predator. Your
child may be spending long hours online, especially at night.
If there are phone calls from people you don't know or
unsolicited gifts arriving in the mail, it's a good idea to
ask your child about any Internet contacts. If your child
suddenly turns off the computer when you walk into the room,
ask why and monitor computer time more closely. Withdrawal
from family life and reluctance to discuss online activities
are other signs that you need to look more closely at what
your child is doing online.
Contact your local law
enforcement agency or the FBI if your child has received child
pornography via the Internet or if your child has been the
victim of a computer sex offender.
By taking an active role
in your child's Internet activities, you'll be ensuring that
he or she can benefit from the wealth of valuable information
the Internet has to offer, without being exposed to any