The Internet is full of wonderful places and can create many positive experiences. Vast amounts of information is available at the click of a mouse. “Cyberspace”, however, is part of “real life” and there is good reason to be cautious here. The same dangers that exist in “real life” exist on the Internet. We all learn what part of town is the “bad part of town” and avoid it if we want to. The same holds true with the Internet.
Just as we encounter good and bad people on the street, we will encounter good and bad people online. Adults usually exercise common sense, children need guidance and protection.
There are two schools of thought regarding the guidance and protection of our young people. One camp believes that the Internet should be regulated much the same way television is. The second camp views this as censorship and feels that there is a technology available to protect children without limiting the Internet for everyone.
While on-line computer exploration opens a world of possibilities for children, expanding their horizons and exposing them to different cultures and ways of life, they can be exposed to dangers as they hit the road exploring the information highway. There are individuals who attempt to sexually exploit children through the use of on-line services and the Internet. Some of these individuals gradually seduce their targets through the use of attention, affection, kindness, and even gifts. These individuals are often willing to devote considerable amounts of time, money, and energy in this process. They listen to and empathize with the problems of children. They will be aware of the latest music, hobbies, and interests of children. These individuals attempt to gradually lower children’s inhibitions by slowly introducing sexual context and content into their conversations.
There are other individuals, however, who immediately engage in sexually explicit conversation with children. Some offenders primarily collect and trade child-pornographic images, while others seek face-to-face meetings with children via on-line contacts. It is important for parents to understand that children can be indirectly victimized through conversation, i.e. “chat,” as well as the transfer of sexually explicit information and material. Computer-sex offenders may also be evaluating children they come in contact with on-line for future face-to-face contact and direct victimization. Parents and children should remember that a computer-sex offender can be any age or sex the person does not have to fit the caricature of a dirty, unkempt, older man wearing a raincoat to be someone who could harm a child.
Children, especially adolescents, are sometimes interested in and curious about sexuality and sexually explicit material. They may be moving away from the total control of parents and seeking to establish new relationships outside their family. Because they may be curious, children/adolescents sometimes use their on-line access to actively seek out such materials and individuals. Sex offenders targeting children will use and exploit these characteristics and needs. Some adolescent children may also be attracted to and lured by on-line offenders closer to their age who, although not technically child molesters, may be dangerous. Nevertheless, they have been seduced and manipulated by a clever offender and do not fully understand or recognize the potential danger of these contacts.
The FBI has a terrific guide for parents related to internet safety.
The Internet is an exciting medium because it allows, and encourages, the exchange of ideas. Some of these ideas may be of an adult nature and not intended for children. Rather than eliminate these areas of the Internet they can be “blocked” from your computer using software.
Here’s where you can go to read about and download the software that is available:
Provides safe, filtered Internet access to your current ISP. Also offers family related news and information.
Internet Content Rating Association (ICRA)
Empowers the public, especially parents, to make informed decisions about electronic media by means of the open and objective labeling of content. Offers ICRAfilter.
Internet Filter Review
Reviews Internet filters for families to determine which one will work best.
Net Nanny stops illicit material from invading your childâ€™s computer by filtering and blocking web content while they surf. Net Nanny also stops many different kinds of applications from communicating on the Internet. That way, parents can block “file sharing” or “chat,” without knowing about all of the different kinds of programs available.
Provides parental control software to protect kids and family from chat rooms and peer-to-peer illegal downloads of music, movies, software, or pornography.
Internet access control and filtering software for Internet and intranet protection. Provides service and support world wide.
We recommend that you establish a set of rules with your child that governs their conduct while they are online:
- I will not give out my address, telephone number, school name or location, credit card information, or my parents work name, address or telephone number without my parents permission.
- I will not respond to a message that is mean or makes me feel uncomfortable. I will tell my parents (or, in their absence, another adult who is present) right way if I get a message like that.
- I will never agree to meet an online acquaintance in person without first discussing it with my parents. If my parents agree to the meeting, I will bring my mother or father with me and make sure it is in a public place.
- I will help my parents set up rules for when and how long I can be online and will not break those rules without their permission.
We suggest that parents:
- Constantly monitor their child’s online activity. Install service provider controls and filtering software.
- Keep the computer in a place where they can monitor their child.
- Warn their children about the dangers, and learn the lingo. When kids communicate online they need to understand what’s the children are saying.
- Tell their children to never give out personal information.
For more information about keeping children safe on the Internet, check out these Web sites:
ProtectKids by Donna Rice Hughes (an internationally known Internet safety expert and advocate). This site is the most comprehensive guide to Internet safety found anywhere.
The New York Public Library provides a parent’s guide to Internet Safety issues.