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Internet Safety for Children and Parents
2009-04-21 12:00:00

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.

Posting Pictures of your Children Online
2008-12-22 12:00:00

I have a few thoughts regarding posting pictures of your children on the Internet.   Although it may seem harmless at first, we need to look at the bigger picture.

You've heard of temporary internet files located on your computer.  These files are cached images, downloaded by your browser for quicker viewing when you revisit that page.   The content can range from icons, background images to photographs. 

Now picture yourself (sorry for the pun) viewing someone's photo album on their Blog, Facebook or MySpace.  As you browse through that person's photographs, your computer has downloaded these images and saved them onto your hard drive.  While this seems perfectly harmless, pretend these images are of your family and children.  Every person that views these images now has a copy.    Furthermore, Google Images has most likely "crawled" your site, thus caching these images.

Now before you feel the need to freak out about this concept, there are a few precautions you can take when putting photos of your family and children online.

  1. Think twice before you do. Ask yourself, "Do I really want this picture online?"
  2. Check to see if the photograph reveals your home, child's school or location where they can be contacted.  If it does, do not upload this photograph.
  3. Consider resizing the photograph to a smaller size, so detail isn't as high.
  4. Don't name the file "Jenny at the beach.jpg"  Consider an obfuscated or random type identifier in the filename, such as "j23abc001.jpg"  And under any circumstances, do not put your child's name in the filename.

The bottom line is really, think twice, and consider the consequences.  Many parents want to share the images with their family, friends and relatives.  The bottom line is really, think twice, and consider the consequences. Yes, we did say that twice for a reason.   Some sites have privacy settings and passwords you can set before someone can gain access.  Consider those options.

ZooBuh has many resources available from parents to teachers that can help with questions you have.

Internet Safety 101
2003-11-28 09:30:00

As a parent, you often wonder what is the best way to tell your kids how to behave online.  Simply put, making rules before hand, makes your job easier.  If the rules are known ahead of time, your child will know the consequences of not following them.   This solves the dilemma of not knowing how to reprimand your child after the fact.   Set some ground rules before they start.  Parents should always determine the age where the child can use the Internet without parental supervision.

Some suggested rules of internet safety for kids are as follows:

  1. NEVER talk to strangers
  2. NEVER give out any information such as a home address, phone number
  3. NEVER tell someone you don't know where you go to school
  4. NEVER send a picture of yourself
  5. NEVER agree to meet anyone from the Internet in person
  6. NEVER give your password to anyone, even your friends
  7. NEVER threaten anyone online and ALWAYS behave appropriately
  8. NEVER download or install any program without parental permission
  9. DO TALK to your parents about your online experiences
  10. ALWAYS ask your parent questions if you have them, no matter how small

Parents, you can modify or add to this list as you see fit.  Nobody knows your child better than you.  Make sure they understand these rules before you allow them online--even if you are present.

Just remember, the more you interact with your child, the better off they will be.  Make sure you take Internet Safety seriously.

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