A Parents Guide to Safe Surfing

There are some truly scary things out there on the Internet. For parents and guardians, protecting kids from The Dark Side of the Internet is a responsibility not to be taken lightly.

  1. What should a parent do?
  2. Internet safety basics
  3. Site checking software
  4. Parent / Child agreement

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 government censorship.

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.

What Should A Parent Do
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 inappropriate materials.

  1. Set up rules for your children to follow
  2. Use commercially available site checking software.
  3. Get involved and stay involved with your children as they use the Internet.
  4. The remainder of this article presents a few ideas on how to effectively monitor your child’s Internet usage.

Internet Safety Basics

Here are some basics to keep in mind when the children are online.

  1. 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 Web.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!
  4. Monitor online time. Be aware of excessive hours on the Internet.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

Parent / Child Agreement

Review the following Agreement with your children and post them by the computer as a reminder.

  1. I will tell my parents right away if I come across any information that makes me feel uncomfortable.
  2. I will not give out my name, address, telephone number, or the name and location of my school without my parent’s permission.
  3. 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 along.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Site Checking Software

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.

“It’s better to debate a question without settling it than to
settle a question without debating it.’