Before the public availability of the Internet, most parents’ concerns about their children’s safety was limited to the world outside of their homes. Aside from concerns about inappropriate content on the television, most parents felt as though their children were protected as long as they were within the confines of the house. However, with the prevalence of networked home computers in today’s world, parents are presented with new concerns about the safety of their children. This infrastructure provides a window for child predators and coarse materials such as pornography or propagandist information to work their way into a child’s life. Because of these new dangers, parents should educate themselves about methods of protection in regards to the Internet.
Steps to Take
The first steps in protecting one’s children from the dangers of the networked world, are: to become educated about the technology, to educate their children in turn, and to keep an eye on what their children are accessing. In a recent study, it was reported that one-third of a group of 1,511 young people reported receiving unwanted sexual comments, and had provided personal information to various sources while browsing the World Wide Web (Leader Post, 2005). Of this group, 57 percent had come in contact with pornography of some sort while surfing, and only 16 percent of their parents were aware of it (Leader Post, 2005). This low percentage of awareness indicates that parents should do a better job of tracking their children’s paths on the Internet. To do this, they must become educated not only about the possible dangers and what to look for, but how to take steps to track the viewing habits of their children and to prevent the access of certain content and websites.
Simple Tips & Tricks
There are some simple steps that concerned adults can take to learn about their child's dealings on the Internet. Parents can inspect the browser “history” on their children’s computers for inappropriate websites, or take a look in the “temporary Internet files” directory that exists in Microsoft Windows systems to seek out potential threats or graphic materials. It is also possible to install tracking software that runs in the background and logs online activity. However, children are often very good with modern day technology, and it is possible for them to manipulate these logs if they wished to cover their tracks, so these methods are not fool-proof.
Educate Your Children
No matter what steps one may take, there will most certainly be ways for youngsters to find their way into seedy online territory. Therefore, parents should take steps to train their children on how to deal with situations that make them feel uncomfortable while browsing the Internet. These situations most commonly arise in Internet chat rooms, where child predators can often conceal their true identity and convince potential victims to give out personal information. A young person could also simply end up at a website that is attempting to solicit personal information. One way to combat this problem is to advise kids of guidelines for participating in online communication. The Canadian government has established a set of such tips, which are available on their SafeCanada.ca website (Leader Post, 2005). They are:
- Use a nickname -- NEVER tell your real name to anyone on the Internet
- Never share personal information without permission from a parent. Don't tell anyone your age, your address, your phone number or where you go to school. Your passwords for Web sites and e-mail are also secret. Never tell your passwords to anyone, not even your best friend.
- If someone asks to meet you in person, say NO and tell your parents or teacher right away. The person you are chatting with may not be telling the truth; you could be talking to an adult who is pretending to be a kid.
- If you see anything on your computer -- such as a message or a picture -- that makes you feel bad or uncomfortable, tell your parent or teacher right away.
There are many other suggested methods for preventing Internet-related safety issues. Some experts say parents should not allow children or teens to have computers in their bedrooms or Internet access on their cell phones (Bronston, 2005). Yet another suggestion is for parents to become educated about Internet jargon that is often used by teenagers to communicate coded messages. Some popular acronyms such as POS (parent over shoulder) and P911 (parent alert) are used to indicate that parents are watching (Xinhua, 2005)
Obviously, parents cannot monitor every moment that a child is browsing. For added security, there are many commercially available software packages that have been developed for the purpose of blocking content that is deemed inappropriate. Although many of these have been deemed as crude and impractical (Rowan, 2005), they have been somewhat effective in filtering unwanted content from being viewed by young people. Such packages include McAfee's Parental Controls, LookSmart's Net Nanny, and SpyBuddy by ExploreAnywhere. Many of these software packages can be downloaded as a trial version so that parents can find the package that works best for them. Also, parents should be familiar with the capabilities of the web browsers that are installed on their children’s system. These browsers often have content filtering features built-in, and can be used for this same purpose.
There are also steps that concerned parents can take, that do not cost money, to limit viewable content and curb the attempts of child predators to exploit their children. One of these steps is to set up a firewall. A firewall can be either a software or hardware system. Its purpose is to block specified “ports” on a computer system through which certain types of content flow. For example, when you access a web page over the Internet, most of the text and graphics you see on the page travel to your computer through a port, which is designated by a number: 80. By setting up a firewall that blocks port number 80, you can prevent all World Wide Web traffic from being accessed by your computer . Firewalls can protect against spyware, which can sometimes be used to track Internet browsing or even capture personal information. Computer experts with malicious intent, or hackers, can also exploit open ports on a computer to access private information. This can also prevented with a properly configured firewall in place. In most cases, you can already use your current computer to set up a firewall. The system documentation or interactive help features should be able to provide more information regarding the deployment of firewalls. For more sophisticated systems, firewall software or hardware can be purchased and installed.
The dangers presented to children in their dealings on the Internet are numerous and obvious. However, by employing the techniques described above, guardians can protect their children from these dangers, and still provide their children with the greatly beneficial learning and communication aspects of this modern day tool.
Rowan, David. (2004). Keep your children safe on the superhighway. The Times (London). Dec. 30, 2004. 2, 4.
Viewpoints. (2005). The Leader-Post (Regina Saskatchewan). April 11, 2005. Pg. B7
Bronston, Barri. Innocents online. (2005). Times-Picayne (New Orleans). May 9th, 2005. Section: Living Pg. 1
Study: parents must keep alert on children’s online activities. (2005). Xihua General News Service. May 24th, 2005. Section: World News.