Keeping Kids Safe on the Internet
It's inevitable that kids will end up using the internet - either at home, at school, or both. While it's potentially a fantastic tool for research and information, it can also be a two-way portal: it can bring harmful images and ideas to children, and it can enable them to share private information with strangers. Following you will find some suggestions for keeping kids safe online.
The importance of a child-safe search engine
Most of us use Google or Yahoo search on a regular basis, and that means our children (whether in the home or at school) are probably using those search engines too. You probably know that they both have a "Safe Search" feature that filters out adult-oriented websites and images. But, there are loopholes in Safe Search that let inappropriate things slip through.
There is still always the possibility that a child using these search engines will be exposed to inappropriate material even when using perfectly innocent search terms. I used to suggest in some of my materials that Google be used if children want to search for additional info, but I will no longer make that suggestion.
Instead, I highly recommend that children use kid-friendly search engines. These search engines search only specific sites that are hand-picked, rather than searching the entire web. You are pretty much guaranteed that only appropriate content is displayed. One example would be Yahoo Kids - Yahoo's kid safe search site. For info and links regarding child-safe search engines, take a look at the article Savvy Little Searchers at Search Engine Watch.
Filtering programs for your computer
If you would like to take additional steps to ensure your child's safety online, you'll need a filtering program. There are many available; one I recommend is called BSecure Online Internet Filter. It's a program you download off the internet - no software needed - and it automatically blocks unsavory sites with adult content from being viewed on your computer. It's customizable, so you can choose additional sites to block, or unblock others that you need to get to.
It has many great options, including one that simply shuts off the internet during time periods that you set. For instance, you could disable the internet during the night - no one could login. It also gives you monthly reports about every search and site visited. You can know exactly where your kids, their friends, the babysitter, and anyone else is going while using your computer. It's a fantastic way to protect your family, and at $49.95 for an entire year, a great value too.
The rise of social media has given kids places to go online where they can interact with friends and play games. A lot - maybe most - of what takes places at these sites, especially Facebook, is good. But there is some bad.
Children can be solicited by strangers online, or asked to reveal personal information, or be exposed to harmful or inappropriate content. What's a parent to do?
- It's up to parents to monitor all of their child's online activity, and make sure that there are some simple rules in place. These can include: never giving out personal information online, and never meeting anyone in person that you meet online.
- If your child has an account at a social networking site, create your own page and add them as a "friend". Browse through some of their friends' pages to get an idea of who they're communicating with online. Let them know that you'll be coming by their page every so often. Occasionally leave your child a positive comment about an accomplishment, or just to let them know how proud you are of them.
- This one is mentioned a lot, but it bears repeating: keep your computers out in well-trafficked areas; don't let your child have a computer in his or her bedroom.
Using the internet wisely
The internet can seem like a scary place, but it can also be a fantastic place to learn and socialize. From a very early age, kids can be taught certain basic principles about internet safety. Parents are the most important line of defense between their children and predators on the internet - putting safeguards in place shouldn't be optional. If parents put lots of time and energy into monitoring their child's internet activity, the internet can be a helpful learning tool for children of all ages.
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