Internet & Online Safety

Issues and preventative measures we can take

We all know about the open access that the Internet allows in finding anything or practically anyone. Most people believe the world has become smaller by being able to visit lands of great distances at the touch of a keypad or a simple search on Google for some of the most ambiguous topics or ideas. This freedom of access also allows those that are deviant to lure the unsuspecting, lonely, curious, and adventurous individual to places or people that appear legitimate in cyberspace.

Increasingly, the Internet has become a haven for predators and when it comes to our children we all must ensure that we are teaching them safety. The alternative that some parents are beginning to administer is to keep the child offline or monitor them exceptionally close. To avoid this drastic step, we must get back to basics with our children about cautioning them in talking with strangers whether it is face to face, on the Internet at school, library or a friend’s house. And, by the way, this includes instant messaging to those you don’t even know.

Hmm… so what does a parent, teacher, employee, student or child need to be aware of and what types of preventative measures must we be prepared to take?

  • Become Informed — Make sure that you know how to use the Internet yourself. Inquire as to the safeguards used by the school, library and friends’ homes. Understand that the “Starwars” chat room may actually be a 40 year old sexual predator. If you have small children they should use only kid-friendly search engines such as www.yahooligans.com or Ask Jeeves at: www.ajkids.com. If you suspect online “stalking” or sexual exploitation, report it to the police. Consider installing blocking software or a filter to limit the sites your children can visit. Set rules about where your kids can visit online and what to do if they happen to find inappropriate sites. A good site for a family internet policy can be found at: www.safekids.com. You can also visit the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s website at: www.missingkids.com.
  • Be Smart — Rules should be set for Internet use such as when and how long children can go on-line. Go to: www.getnetwise.com for information on time-limiting software that prevents kids from going online when you are not around. Always have them use a code name and try to change passwords frequently. Set up Internet accounts in your name and be the guardian of the password. Always maintain access to your child’s on-line accounts and regularly and randomly check the e-mail messages. Position the computer in a high traffic area where you can monitor some of the activity. Never give out your name, address, telephone number or other pertinent information that might help a predator locate you. Also, be careful never to discuss family vacation plans since this can result in house burglaries or car theft. Prohibit or monitor your children’s use of chat functions. Preview the chat rooms they use, and make sure their screen names do not identify them as children.
  • Stay Alert — Watch for changes in behavior such as withdrawal from conversation, attempting to be secretive and use of inappropriate language for the child’s age group. Be aware of questions pertaining to scanning, use of web cams and downloading digital pictures. Also, look for hidden photos of children and adults having sex which are often used to break down a child’s inhibitions. Be cautious if a child has none or a minimal amount of friends, seems unusually preoccupied in chat rooms, receives questionable mail, e-mail, gifts or packages or receives excessive telephone calls from adults or friends not known. Be sensitive to how your child is dressing especially if they dress to look older and more seductive.
  • Indentity Theft — Identity theft, also known as identity fraud, refers to a variety of crimes where someone wrongfully obtains and uses personal information for financial gain or some type of deception. Personal data such as your social security number, bank account, credit card or telephone calling card can be used by the wrong persons to personally benefit at your expense. Never give out the following information online to strangers:
    • Address of your house or apartment
    • Home telephone number
    • Genealogical information – your mother’s maiden name is often used as a kind of password by banks and credit card companies
    • A schedule of when you will be out of town
  • Name Exposure — As children begin to exchange e-mail addresses with friends they will start to receive forwarded messages using the CC field and exposing the e-mail addresses to more and more strangers. Spammers pick up those names form chain e-mails enabling them to clog inboxes with unwanted e-mails including pornographic and hate spam. Spammers can obtain personal information if the e-mail address is attached to traceable identifying information through an Internet Service Provider (ISP). Name exposure can lead to two other areas known as “bullying” or “cyber stalking”. Bullying beyond the school yard becomes harassment by persistent e-mails and makes threats a child would not make in person. A cyber stalker is someone who attempts to gain intimate personal knowledge of another person through online communications without their consent or after being told to cease. Stalkers are found in chat rooms, news groups, bulletin boards and e mail and their objective is to create fear and get some type of reaction. Although most victims are usually adult women, children are not immune. An excellent site that covers information on Internet Safety, Chat rooms, SPAM, viruses, child safety, cyber stalking, internet addition, and fraud is: www.safetyed.org.

Everyone needs to become vigilant and smarter when it comes to the Internet. According to a 2001 Time/CNN poll, 43 percent of teenagers polled say their parents don’t have rules regarding Internet use and another 26 percent said their parents have rules but they don’t always follow them. A report on the Nation’s Youth by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children for children between the ages of 10 and 17 revealed:

  • 1 in 5 received a sexual solicitation
  • 1 in 33 were aggressively solicited. In these cases a solicitor asked to meet them, called them, or sent mail or gifts
  • 1 in 4 had unwanted exposure to pictures of naked people or sexual activity and
  • 1 in 17 were threatened or harassed.

So, stay informed, be smart and stay alert to the dangers of the Internet and cyberspace. Parents must take greater control and when it comes to the safety of our children, a child’s privacy on the computer is secondary.

On the following page is a good example of Online Safety Rules put out by the Canada Safety Council. It would be good idea for children as well as adults to adhere to these rules and have your child sign and date it after reading and understanding each rule.

Online Safety Rules

  • I will not give out any personal information online without my parents’ permission. This includes my name, phone number, address, e-mail location of my school, my parents’ work address/telephone numbers and credit card numbers, and my picture. This goes for anywhere on the Internet, including e-mail, chat rooms, newsgroups, even Web sites that promise me free stuff or prizes, or on Web pages that I make myself.
  • When using the Internet, I will always use a pretend name or nickname that doesn’t reveal whether I’m a boy or a girl.
  • When creating a password, I will make one up that is hard to guess but easy for me to remember. To avoid having it stolen, I will never reveal it to anyone (except my parents) – not even my best friend.
  • I will not respond to any message that makes me uncomfortable. I will show an adult right away.
  • I will arrange to meet a friend I have made on the Internet ONLY if one of my parents has been informed and will be present.
  • I will not send an insulting or rude message to anyone online. This is called “flaming” and it is not good Netiquette.
  • I will not disable any filtering software my parents have put on the computer.
  • I will not open e-mail, files, links, pictures or games from people that I don’t know or trust. I will always ask an adult first.
  • I will not take words, pictures or sounds from someone else’s Web site without their permission.
  • I will not believe everything I read on the Internet. I will always check the source of the information.
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