The Internet is fast becoming a part of everyone's life. And with access
becoming easier and easier, the already staggering number of 30 million
subscribers is growing exponentially each month. Soon nearly all people with
home computers will be a part of the "Internet community."
Use of the Internet offers many potential benefits to its users: Sharing of
resources and ideas, communicating with people in remote corners of the globe,
and huge amounts of readily accessible reference materials. But, like any community
it has its darker side. Hate mail, racist speeches, pornographic material,
nudity, profanity, explicit sex "chat" rooms, gambling, violence, bomb
and drug formulas, and other sensitive and inappropriate information is being
sent right into our homes along with those things that are beneficial. In fact,
there are some truly scary things out there on the Internet - all with one
objective - to attract readers. And, of course, to every parent's horror, there
are sexual predators lurking out there who have developed some rather
sophisticated techniques in attempting to attract children.
Families, schools, libraries and businesses are logging on to the Internet by
the thousands. They all have one thing in common, i.e., their concerns about the
type of content which their Internet users access. Internet citizens are also
concerned with protecting their rights of free speech online and the issue of
Selling sex-oriented services, photos, and goods are one of the few
businesses that are profitable on the Internet. Due to the competition,
marketing sex is the most sophisticated on the Internet. The anonymity and ease
of access are two reasons why the industry has been so successful online.
Fortunately, many of the industry sites have chosen to rate themselves
"Adult" with many of the "Adult Check" types of programs.
There are others, of course, that do not, and in the process of "surfing'
the net" it is all too easily for anyone to unexpectedly land on one of
these web sites without intending to do so.
There are at least four (4) steps a parent should take in order to protect
his or her children. These include:
- Understand what is on the Internet and how to prevent access to
- Set up rules for your children to follow
- Use commercially available site checking software.
- Get involved and stay involved with your children as they use the
The remainder of this article presents a few ideas on how to effectively
monitor your child's Internet usage.
Here are some basics to keep in mind when the children are online.
- Use the parental controls available on the commercial online services.
These services screen public content and provide online hosts to monitor
chat rooms. Also use filtering software to screen out adult sites on the
- Consider placing the computer in a "family room" in your home
and make use of the Internet a family activity. Check the screen
periodically and let your children know that you are interested in what they
are learning online.
- Ask your children where they go online, and have them show you. If your
children are more familiar with the Internet than you are, let them teach
you about it, you will both enjoy the lesson!
- Monitor online time. Be aware of excessive hours on the Internet.
- Make sure your children are aware of online rules. They should know never
to give out their real name, address and/or telephone number, or agree to
meet with someone person to person. Advise your children that some people on
the Internet conceal their real age and identity. Create a list of online
rules and post them by the computer.
- Monitor your modem telephone bill. Adult Bulletin Board Systems are easy
to access by any communications software. Check out any unfamiliar numbers
on your bill.
- Support and encourage your child's use of the Internet, and participate in
new learning experiences. Acquaint yourself with their online pals and email
habits. Be aware of correspondence with strangers.
Review the following Agreement with your children and post them by the
computer as a reminder.
- I will tell my parents right away if I come across any information that
makes me feel uncomfortable.
- I will not give out my name, address, telephone number, or the name and
location of my school without my parent's permission.
- I will never agree to get together with someone I "meet" online
without first checking with my parents. If my parents agree to the meeting,
I will be sure that it is in a public place and bring my mother or father
- If I get a message that is mean, or makes me feel uncomfortable, I will
not respond. It is not my fault if I get a message like that, and I will
tell my parents if I do.
- I will work with my parents so that we can set up rules for going online.
We will decide upon the time of day that I can be online, the length of time
I can be online, and areas that I am allowed to visit. I will not access
other areas or break these rules without their permission.
There are a number of commercial software packages now available that will
enable a parent to "block" inappropriate Internet web sites. This is
typically done on the web site's self-imposed rating system or the search for
inappropriate words and phrases at a web site. The most popular packages are:
You might want to go to their home pages to get a better idea as to what each
package offers. Each has its own unique features and benefits. Over the next few
months, you can expect to see a number of other packages being introduced that
may or may not be better that these two.
You should realize, however, that there is no "perfect" solution.
No software package is 100% fool-proof. The ultimate responsibility still rests
with you, as a responsible parent, to look after the welfare of your children.
With your frequent direct involvement, you are still your children's most
effective tool for protection against being exposed to inappropriate materials
on the Internet.