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Child Safety Online
The Internet . . . the World Wide Web . . . the Information Superhighway . . .
Whatever it's called, millions of people are now connecting their personal computers to telephone lines so that they can "go online." Traditionally, online services have been oriented towards adults, but that's changing. An increasing number of schools are going online and in many homes children are logging on to commercial services, private bulletin boards and the Internet. As a parent you need to understand the nature of these systems:
The vast array of services that you currently find online is constantly growing. Reference information such as news, weather, sports, stock market quotes, movie reviews, encyclopaedias, and airline fares are readily available online. Users can conduct transactions such as trading stocks, travel reservations, banking, and shopping online. Millions of people communicate through electronic mail (e-mail) with family and friends around the world, and others use the public message boards to make new friends who share common interests. Users can learn about virtually any topic, take a course, or play an endless number of computer games with other users or against the computer itself.
Most people who use online services have mainly positive experiences. But, like any endeavour - travelling, cooking, or attending school - there are some risks. The online world, like the rest of society, is made up of a wide array of people. Most are decent and respectful, but some may be rude, obnoxious, insulting, or even mean and exploitative.
Children and teenagers get a lot of benefit from being online, but they can also be targets of crime and exploitation in this as in any other environment. Trusting, curious, and anxious to explore this new world and the relationships it brings, children and teenagers need parental supervision and common sense advice on how to be sure that their experiences in cyberspace are happy, healthy, and productive.
Putting the Issue in Perspective
Although there have been some highly publicised cases of abuse involving computers, reported cases are relatively infrequent. Of course, like most crimes against children, many cases go unreported, especially if the child is engaged in an activity that he or she does not want to discuss with a parent. The fact that crimes are being committed online, however, is not a reason to avoid using these services. To tell children to stop using these services would be like telling them to stop attending school because students are sometimes bullied. A better strategy would be for children to learn how to be "street smart" in order to better safeguard themselves in any potentially dangerous situation.
There are a few risks for children who use online services. Teenagers are particularly at risk because they often use the computer unsupervised and because they are more likely than younger children to participate in online discussions regarding companionship, relationships, or sexual activity. Some risks are:
Exposure to Inappropriate Material
One risk is that a child may be exposed to inappropriate material of a sexual or violent nature.
Another risk is that, while online, a child might provide information or arrange an encounter that could risk his or her safety or the safety of other family members. In a few cases, paedophiles have used online services and bulletin boards to gain a child's confidence and then arrange a face-to-face meeting.
A third risk is that a child might encounter e-mail or bulletin board messages that are harassing, demeaning, or belligerent.
How Parents Can Reduce the Risks
Most online services and Internet providers allow parents to limit their children's access to certain services and features such as adult oriented "chat" and bulletin boards. Check for these when you first subscribe. In addition, there are now programs designed specifically to enable parents to prevent children from accessing inappropriate materials on the Internet. These tools, while not foolproof, are useful for helping parents control children's access. But they cannot take the place of parental involvement and supervision.
The Internet and some private bulletin boards contain areas designed specifically for adults who wish to post, view, or read sexually explicit material. Most private bulletin board operators who post such material limit access to people who attest that they are adults but, like any other safeguards, be aware that there are always going to be cases where adults fail to enforce them or children find ways around them.
The best way to assure that your children are having positive online experiences is to stay in touch with what they are doing. One way to do this is to spend time with your children while they're online. Have them show you what they do and ask them to teach you how to access the services.
While children and teenagers need a certain amount of privacy, they also need parental involvement and supervision in their daily lives. The same general parenting skills that apply to the real world, also apply while online.
If you have cause for concern about your children's online activities, talk to them. Also seek out the advice and counsel of other computer users in your area and become familiar with literature on these systems. Open communication with your children, use of such computer resources, and getting online yourself will help you obtain the full benefits of these systems and alert you to any potential problem that may occur with their use.
By taking responsibility for your children's online computer use, parents can greatly minimise any potential risks of being online. Make it a family rule to:
We suggest you print these out these Online Safety rules and post them by your computer:
Last updated: 08/07/2005