The Internet has many benefits, but it also has a negative side. Specifically, there is the potential for dangerous situations in which children may be exploited or victimized. To make the Internet as safe as possible, the community and police must work together. Do you plan on subscribing to an Internet service? Is your school or home already online? Make your family’s online experience as safe as possible by learning about the benefits and risks of the Internet, and by monitoring your children’s online activity. Children as young as age two play computer games or send e-mail messages to grandparents. At that age, they are probably sitting on a parent’s lap. Whenever children access the Internet, parent and teacher involvement is critical. Just like the real world, the Internet has many positive experiences to offer. But also like the real world, there are risks and safety concerns, especially for children.
But by age eight, they are often online on their own. They have learned to use the Internet for school projects and may be ‘surfing the Web. By age 12, they probably know more about the World Wide Web than their parents. They are confident and curious and may be interested in ‘chatting’ online. By age 15, many teenagers are extremely sophisticated in their Internet use. They are still curious, but also adventurous, anxious to be independent, and sometimes rebellious.
You probably know the advantages of providing children with Internet access. It’s a learning tool. It’s a research and exploration tool. It’s a communication tool. It’s an entertainment source. It’s available 24 hours a day, every day. But are you aware of the risks? Many Web sites have inappropriate or offensive content, such as sexually explicit text, pictures, products and services; violent or degrading text and pictures or hate-laced material directed at religions, races or nationalities.
Chat rooms let you carry on a live online conversation with people across the street or around the world. Some chat rooms involve general conversation, while others focus on a particular topic. Some topics may be offensive or inappropriate for children.
News groups, sometimes called bulletin boards or forums, are places where you can read or post messages and download or upload files. They feature a wide variety of topics, some of which are not appropriate for children or teens. When users post something on a bulletin board they are making their e-mail address public. E-mail, chat rooms and bulletin boards all provide young people with an opportunity to send or receive inappropriate messages. Sending inappropriate messages over and over again is sometimes called electronic harassment.
If you believe an adult has attempted to arrange a meeting with your child, or if anyone in your family is the victim of Internet fraud or electronic harassment, contact the Altona Police Service at 324-5353. Adults and children alike can fall victim to age-old scams adapted to the Internet, such as:Chain letters and pyramid schemes that require an investment. Purchases that never arrive or are of lower quality than promised, Money-making schemes and misrepresented business opportunities, financial transactions are not always confidential
Online shopping is becoming popular, and many online commerce sites are blatantly directed at children. Transactions are not always confidential. That means a third party could pick up personal information sent over the Web, such as a credit card number.
Tips for Parents
- Learn the basics of computer and Internet use. Talk to your children. Set rules and make sure they know what you consider off limits or inappropriate.
- Put the computer in a common room so you can monitor how long your children are online and what they are viewing.
- Explain the importance of not giving out any personal or financial information online.
- Set time limits to help children stay focused on their original task and deter them from aimless surfing and chatting.
- Take time to explore the Web with your children. Ask them to show you the activities they enjoy.
- Ask your children to tell you if they receive anything that makes them uncomfortable. Tell them not to respond to obnoxious, sexual or menacing e-mail.
- Report all electronic harassment to your Internet provider.
- Watch for warning signs such as children creating passwords, hiding files, using the Internet excessively, creating multiple e-mail accounts or deleting history files.
- Ask your children about the people they are meeting in chat rooms.
- Be cautious if a child wants to meet an online friend in person. If you allow it, the meeting should take place in a busy, public place, and you should accompany your child.
- Consider using blocking or filtering software. Talk to a computer retailer or Internet specialist about software options.
Safety Tips for Kids
- Remember, there is no way to know if an online ‘friend’ is really who they say they are.
- Never agree to meet someone you know only through the Internet, unless you have your parent’s approval. Take an adult along and meet in a busy, public place.
- Never make purchases or place orders over the Internet without your parent’s approval. Never give out personal information such as your last name, address, telephone number, password, parent’s credit card number, parent’s work address or telephone number, the name and location of your school, or the name of your sports team.
- Never send your picture or anything else to an online ‘friend’ without your parent’s approval.
- Never respond to messages that are mean or make you feel uncomfortable. Tell your parents immediately.
- Never use bad language on the Internet and never send mean messages.