Five years ago, I found myself in front of a classroom full of computers. Behind each machine sat a child barely big enough to peak around the big screens. I considered myself to be fairly tech savvy, but to my surprise, these kids were just as savvy as I am. In fact, they were often more so. While the school did have filtering software and blocked sites, most of the students knew how to get around that and to the sites they wanted to see. As innocent as their curiosity is, it's not hard to come across something that we'd rather our children not see. It's likely no surprise to parents that their children know more about computers than we ever did as children and probably more than the parent in most cases.
I watch the news every night. While it's not a daily occurrence, it is more frequent now than it ever was before to hear horrific things that are happening with our children because of computers and the Internet. This week, a local school had two 11-year-old boys use a school computer to look at pornography. We've all seen episodes of "How to Catch a Predator" where predators solicit underage children. There are horror stories of child predators on popular social networking sites. In March of this year, just one of the fifty states found that more than 2100 of its registered sex offenders were on one of these popular networking sites. Even more upsetting is that this news came a month after this same popular networking site had booted more than 90,000 sex offenders.
It is so common place for kids to be tech savvy that even modern day commercials poke fun at it. Recently, a large cell phone company aired a commercial about texting and using acronyms. New acronyms are becoming part of speech everyday. A few years ago, I visited my sister for a week. Her kids at the time were 11, 9 and 1. They were quick to pick up my speech and to my surprised had picked up some acronyms I use in daily speech. Surprisingly enough, my sister had no idea what any of them meant. That is often the case with parents as kids pick up and learn new things everyday.
So how do we keep our children safe?
There's really only one way to keep your child safe and that begins with you. As the parent, the guardian, the teacher, the adult, it all begins with you. You absolutely must be involved in the child's online experience if you are to guarantee the child's safety on the Internet. I've listed a few tips below to help you.
The first tool to keeping our kids safe is communication. Parents need to talk to their children about internet safety in the same way that we talk to our children about crossing the street. Guidelines must be set. Children must understand that there are certain sites that are trusted and safe for them to use. It is important for kids to know that they should never give out personal information online. Addresses, last names, and phone numbers are all information that should remain private. Even pictures should not be shared. Too often information can be picked up from just one innocent picture. Kids should know that anytime anything inappropriate happens online, they should speak with a parent or trusted adult immediately.
Once you've spoken with your child about Internet safety and set up guidelines regarding computer and Internet usage, it's time to find the right place for the computer in your home. A good rule of thumb is to never have a computer in your child's bedroom. This isolates you from keeping a close eye on them. I tell people, if they aren't sure, to look where the carpet is worn the most. This indicates a high traffic area in your home. The family computer should be located near this area with the screen in view. It's also important to make a mental note of where your child's friends keep their computers. While you may not have any control over where your child's friends keep their computers in their homes, it is very likely that at some point your child will use a computer with a friend in their home under someone else's supervision.
Finally, invest in software, programs, and sites that will help you keep control over your child's computer and Internet experience. There is no price too great when it comes to your child's safety. There are browsers designed just for children, network software and even email and blogs that were created with your child in mind. Find what works best for you and your child.
It's important to remember that the answer is not keeping our children from computers and technology all together. With all that bad, there is a whole lot of good. Computers provide extensive information at our finger tips. Children use computers and the Internet to learn about history, current events and so much more. Computers aid in helping children learn to read, type and even write. Children want to be connected now more than ever.
While this article does not address the issue of spy ware or viruses, it's important to remember that you can always replace a computer. You can never be too safe when it comes to your children.