Internet Safety- How can you tell who your children are being exposed to on-line?

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The internet can be compared to the automobile in some ways. The use of the many positive resources on the web makes obtaining information faster and easier, access to online digital libraries and research sites is infinitely preferable to relying on the old Encyclopedia someone bought years ago, or what might be available at your local school library, and the ability “get to” the good things the world has to offer faster, is, well…a good thing.  Sadly, though, the use of the automobile also means greatly increased risks.

Are there parents today who would hand their 16 year old the keys to a brand new car without extensive education, supervised driving experiences, and LOTS of rules, just say “ok, have at it!” . Ok, maybe there are. MOST parents recognize the dangers involved in putting their child behind the wheel of a huge machine without the proper preparation, and ongoing guidance and supervision. But many of those same parents also buy their kids computers meant to be tools for education along with everything else, and then hook them up to wireless access so they can essentially drive all over the world, in many of the WORST neighborhoods one could imagine, without a second thought.

There are a number of internal and external devices and programs that adults can use to restrict their child’s access, as well as to monitor where they’ve been going, but the KEY safety method related to the internet requires extensive education of both the parent and the child. Many communities today offer public service type computer safety programs for kids and families- often with local or state police involvement.  

One of the most powerful one types of these educational experiences involves a demonstration in which  a group of parents and middle-schooler’s arre located in one classroom, and using AIM ( instant messenger)  a volunteer from the class is engaged in a conversation with someone using their location as a starting point for the chat. The child from the class is asked questions about their interests, hobbies and so forth by the  “perp” ( a police officer in another room) and it is amazing as to just how much information the student will share with what they think is a peer. “omg..I love horses TOO. You HAVE one??? Yeah, I live in Middleburg, lol….Where did you get your tack? Cool. “ And so on.

The parents, if not the students, most often are quite surprised when the “other” teenager is brought in and introduced from the other room, a police officer who is remarkably adept at typing just like a teen aged girl, or boy, about whatever they want to talk about. Fortunately, in this controlled and educational situation, the police officer is there to demonstrate what COULD easily happen, if the keyboard at the other end were in the hands of a predator.

Although there are many applications to use as a data blocker, or to restrict site access, or to log keystrokes, it must be emphasized to  parents that there is NOTHING to keep your child safe that is more effective than education, and continued parental involvement. You may have installed NetNanny, programmed Content Advisor, downloaded BullDog, or carefully configured your proxy server, but NOTHING works better than Mom or Dad peeking in on a regular basis and sitting there staring at the screen with their child…Whatcha doin?  

Parents need to know where their kids are driving, if they are wearing their seatbelts and obeying safety and traffic laws, and most importantly, exactly where their children are driving TOO, and who it is who may be hiding in the back seat.

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