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We're all busy these days, and many of us are either single parents, or two-parent families where both parents work full time. I've been in both positions, so I truly sympathize with all of you who feel overwhelmed by the thought that this new medium gives you yet another thing to add to your "watch" and "to do" lists. But we truly need to find ways to keep in touch with our children and their activities, especially in a increasingly technological world where they will be exposed to a larger number of people and boatloads of information. Even taking an extra 15 minutes at the end of the day (when I know we're all plain exhausted) to ask your children to share with you their thoughts, feelings and fears of daily events will serve your family well. Doing this shows our kids that we care, and it helps us stay aware of potential dangers they might encounter. I sometimes let my son teach me about a computer game I have no clue about, or ask him to write an email to a family member with me. Sometimes I have him show me how to download information from a particular web site. Other times we read or just cuddle. I think that many of us tend to forget how much children can teach us if we only ask and then listen. Time seems to always be the issue - there never seems to be enough of it. I suggest you start simple, with small and attainable goals. Set a specific time of 15-20 minutes a day to become more familiar with your child's online activities. Getting your child to simply show you how to log on the computer will help those of you who don't know how, and it truly makes the child feel incredibly intelligent and powerfully loved. The main idea is...do something, and don't wait for a problem in order to pay close attention.


If you don't know how to use a computer very well, I strongly urge you to find a way to do it now. A new era is upon us, and online communication is a big part of the present and future. Even if use of computers and the internet is unnecessary to your profession, and not part of your daily routine, it is very much a part of the world your child lives in. There is an active campaign in place right now to get all schools in the United States online by the year 2000. (Click here for a list of sites regarding recent developments) You as a parent will be more effective in helping your children take advantage of this wonderful new phenomenon, as well as helping them stay safe - if you become educated and prepared now.


Even though this has become a main precept of child safety online, I think that it is also good advice for parents. There have been many stories of adults getting into serious trouble online because they gave out personal information on a bulletin board or in a chat room. I have a good friend who, four years ago was seeking advice on parenting through a local bulletin board. She began to receive obscene messages from one of the people who also frequented that bulletin board. It escalated to a full-scale stalking of her entire family, including her two children. This went on for 3-4 years, and she has shown me the graphic messages this man sent her. In these messages, he depicts himself and her mentally challenged pre-teen son in a sado-masochistic sexual relationship. In fact, I have yet to see messages of such a violent nature towards children as this man sent to her. By sharing this, I don't wish to frighten you. I just want you to realize that these things can happen online, and you should exercise caution on the internet as you do in your daily lives. Don't think that the computer automatically "protects" you from anything. Exercise good common sense online as you would if you were in a large city. Think before you reveal anything. Think before you meet anyone in person.


Help your children understand that the computer is a tool for educational purposes and for positive communication. Used as such, they can learn and grow and have a lot of fun. At the same time, help them understand that this wonderful tool can sometimes be used by an undesirable element for malicious purposes. Draw a mental picture for them. I tell my son to view the internet as a massive public telephone system, except that you can't hear the voices and therefore you do not know the age or sex of the person you are communicating with. Just as you would teach your children that unknown telephone callers should not be told personal information, teach them that same principle for internet use. They really don't know for certain who they are talking to, and the internet also makes it easy for a person to pose as someone they are not. If you aren't certain where to start, please see my Recommended Links page for sites that can help you. Also, see the Web Wise Kids' Club House Rules, and get started with something to help your children become net-smart.


I realize that there are many people who have benefited from online friendships, and some of these have grown into successful relationships and sometimes happy endings. But, due to my own personal experience, I guess I am a bit biased. I truly feel there are many wonderful things to discover on the internet - loads of helpful and exciting information for the cost of $20/month - but I am still concerned that meeting online "pals" in person opens up Pandora's Box. You just don't know what you're going to get - it could be good, might be bad. It all depends on whether you're willing to take that risk, I suppose. The message I would send it this. Carefully consider the risks first. And I highly advise you not to allow your children to meet online "pals" in person, and certainly never alone. If you do choose to allow it, at least make sure that you go with your child.


If you have a computer in your home that has access to the internet, consider placing it in a family room or den area rather than in a closed room. This will increase the chances of catching sight of inappropriate material that your child might encounter online. It also draws in the whole family,which can make the internet alot more valuable to all concerned.


Without rules and guidelines, children may feel compelled to try new things, even things they may know are not in keeping with your beliefs. Establish a set of guidelines that reflects your family values. Make sure your child understands these guidelines and agrees to respect them while online. You can use the Web Wise Kids' Club House Rules - aka Rascal's Seven Smart Rules for Internet Safety. This is actually a contract between parent, child and teacher, and written in concise language the child can easily understand. We hope you will find it useful in establishing a good online standard for the entire family. Or you can visit the well-known internet safety site of SafetyEd International, located at: http://www.safetyed.org, where you can find a great deal of helpful information for both teens and adults. You can also go to a variety of other sites that will give you more ideas on internet safety, and our links page is a good place to start. In the section, "Non-Profits and Reputable Organizations Dedicated to Internet Safety", you will find a good list of sites that offer tips and suggestions on internet safety and establishing online rules for children.


Find out what your local school and library policies are concerning internet access. Ask if there is supervision of children while online, and if there are any "technology tools" being utilized to filter out harmful information. There is a rapidly expanding market of technologies that promote safe and positive experiences online for children. Get educated on the variety of tools available, and get involved in the decisions being made at your child's school. I suggest you visit at least four sites to get the quick low-down on some of these devices and the role they may play in keeping your child safe online at home and in schools or libraries:


(For a more complete list of internet safety websites, please see our
links page).


In addition to researching the various independent "technology tools" that are available to families, schools & libraries, I suggest you also check with your online service provider to see what options they may have for you. Some of the service providers, like AOL and Disney Online, have a variety of child-friendly services and offer parental controls. Other services, known as Internet Service Providers (ISP's), may offer a list of good sites for children, safety tips and links to "technology tools." One thing is for certain - internet industry leaders are becoming more aware of the growing need for internet safety education, and many are adding new services and suggestions to help parents and children alike. And, if you find that your provider is not currently addressing this issue, please suggest that they at least place links to Web Wise Kids; http://www.webwisekids.com, SafetyEd International; http://www.safetyed.org, and similar sites focused on internet safety issues. It can only help their customers and increase the satisfaction with their service.


Check with your local PTA to find out what programs they are offering to help educate you, teachers and the entire family on internet safety. There may be a local program in place that will give you some "hands on" training, and may give you an opportunity to network with other parents facing the same dilemma.

Check with your local PTA to find out what programs they are offering to help educate you, teachers and the entire family on internet safety. There may be a local program in place that will give you some "hands on" training, and may give you an opportunity to network with other parents facing the same dilemma.

Also, you may wish to see what the National PTA is doing, and you can visit their site at

Visit our Upcoming Events section to see what may be happening in your area, and if Web Wise Kids or any of our non-profit affiliates are providing internet safety education in your area.


If you find yourself in a situation where you suspect online "stalking", or exploitation of your child, or if your child disappears as a result of an online encounter, don't hesitate to call law enforcement, any of the hundreds of missing children's organizations available (see our links page for a list of these), and any other professional assistance you feel you may need. There IS help available when you need it, thanks to the efforts of many who had the intuition to prepare for this phenomenon. The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (also known as NCMEC) has a new system for tracking & apprehending online predators & child pornographers. It's called the "Cyber Tipline", and in addition to reporting illegal online behavior towards children, you can access a host of helpful information about laws and legislation, prevention and resources, guidelines for internet use, and so on. The address to this site is: http://www.missingkids.com/cybertip. Leads forwarded to the site will be acknowledged and forwarded to the appropriate branch of law enforcement. Additionally, you can contact SafetyEd International, which has several groups of individuals that monitor various areas of the internet, and can help in a variety of ways. Caring volunteers have been trained in Usenet, the World Wide Web, Internet Relay Chat (IRC), etc...and can be a tremendous resource in helping you preserve valuable information for reporting, cope with online stalking issues, talk to your kids about internet safety, handle online privacy issues, and much more. SafetyEd International can also assist in reporting incidents to U.S. Customs, and has done so in the past.

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Last modified: June 04, 2008