The Internet is NOT Childs Play – Internet Tips for Parents

imageIn the last year,  McAfee Inc., the well known provider of antivirus software and intrusion prevention solutions, released research which indicated that most American mothers rate their teenagers’ online safety, their exposure to drugs and drunk driving, as essentially equal anxiety producing agents.

So, were these mothers concerns justified?

You bet! While it’s true that the Internet can provide a rich educational and cultural experience for children, and teenagers, it is virtually impossible for them not to be exposed to,  “the underbelly of the internet”.

One of the more harmful urban myths, which most adults believe is, we have raised, or are raising a “tech savvy” generation. This “truth” however, should not be taken at face value.

Simply because a teenager is more comfortable with technology than a parent, does not makes a teenager tech savvy. Knowing how to text message, or load a game onto an Xbox, does not make one “tech savvy”. It really is a situation where “they don’t know what they don’t know”, can have serious impact.

I fully understand where this idea of the tech savvy generation comes from – just listen to the mainstream media. The media constantly pontificates on how technically literate today’s young people are. The dichotomy is, these are the same young people whose literacy skills are insufficient to deal with their own education, never mind the complexities the techno world presents.

If you think this is an overstated argument, then consider this: According to a study of more than 19,000 college graduates, conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, only 31 percent can read a complex book and extrapolate from it. Without doubt, the world of Internet security is the most complex world I have ever inhabited.

Staying safe in today’s techno centric world demands knowledge, and acquiring that knowledge requires that a major effort be made to obtain it. Lacking in appropriate literacy skills makes the job of accumulating that knowledge a difficult undertaking.

It’s no wonder then, that the majority of children, and teenagers, are undereducated when it comes to recognizing the dangers, and threats, that the Internet poses to their personal privacy and safety.

Let me ask you this question – would you drop off your child, or teenager, in a neighborhood where more than half of the buildings were adult stores, and which was potentially full of predators?

In my view, if you allow your child, or younger teenager, to interact with the Internet unsupervised, or without having communicated to your child information concerning potential on-line dangers, this is what you may well be doing.

How much do you know about where your child goes on the Internet?

What social networking sites does your child subscribes to?

Who are their online friends and acquaintances?

What does your child post online and where is it posted?

If you don’t know the answers to these questions, you are not alone. Recent statistics make it clear that fully 80% of parents don’t know.

It’s easy to see why this knowledge gap exists; since reports indicate 8 of out of 10 parents give their children unrestricted access to the Internet, without implementing parental control settings.

Additional study statistics:

Providing personal information to online strangers – 52 per cent of teens in the study reported having done so.

Providing a photograph, or a physical description, to online strangers – 34 per cent of teenage girls in the study, reported having done so.

Clearing the browser cache so that their Internet history cannot be tracked – 32 per cent of the teenagers in the study, reported having done so.

I found the most surprising and troubling statistic to be; 16 per cent of the teenagers involved in the McAfee study, indicated they had developed social networking profiles and Email addresses, which they had hidden from their parents.

So what’s a concerned parent to do?

fbi_logo 2

You can bring yourself and your teenager up to speed on online safety, by taking the “McAfee/Comcast Cyber Summer Safety Challenge”. You might be surprised at what you can learn.

Then, follow the advice offered by the FBI in the United States, which lists some of the most important positive actions, you as a parent, can take to reduce your teenagers possible victimization on the Internet.

According to the FBI, the following are some of the most important positive actions, you as a parent, can take to reduce your child’s possible victimization on the Internet.

Communicate, and talk to your child about potential on-line dangers.

Spend time with your children on-line. Have them teach you about their favorite on-line destinations.

Keep the computer in a common room in the house, not in your child’s bedroom.

Utilize parental controls provided by your service provider and/or blocking software.

Since computer-sex offenders are a very real danger on the Internet, the FBI suggests that you instruct your children to:

Never arrange a face-to-face meeting with someone they met on- line.

Never upload (post) pictures of themselves onto the Internet or an on-line service to people they do not personally know.

Never give out identifying information such as their name, home address, school name, or telephone number.

Never download pictures from an unknown source; there is a good chance there could be sexually explicit images.

Never respond to messages or bulletin board postings that are suggestive, obscene, belligerent, or harassing.

Parental Control Bar 2

An important aspect of ensuring that your child is safe while using the Internet, (recommended by child safety experts/organizations), is the installation of parental control software.

Parental controls will provide you with the advantage of being able to:

Block access to materials (text and pictures) identified as inappropriate for kids.

Permit access only to materials specifically approved as safe for kids.

Specify what types of materials are appropriate for your child.

Monitor your child’s activity on the Internet by storing names of sites and/or snapshots of material seen by your child on the computer for you to view later.

Set different restrictions for each family member.

Limit results of an Internet search to content appropriate for kids

Enforce time limits set by parents.

If your operating system does not offer parental control features, and you would like to implement this, then check out my review, on this site, of a free application offered by WRAAC.org, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing free and effective Internet control tools – “Free Internet Child Protection – Parental Control Bar”.

An additional problematic issues is, the issue of sex, tech and teens; more precisely – teenaged sexting. For information on this current issue, please read “Sexting – A Real Problem or an Overreaction?” on this site.

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23 Comments

Filed under Child Safety Internet, cybercrime, Free Surveillance Applications, Freeware, Interconnectivity, Internet Safety for Children, Internet Safety for Teenagers, Internet Safety Tools, Online Safety, Parenting Help, Sexting, social networking, Windows Tips and Tools

23 responses to “The Internet is NOT Childs Play – Internet Tips for Parents

  1. Hey Bill,

    As a Father of 3, this article hits home with me. I stay as vigilant as possible in monitoring what my kids are doing on the internet and educating them to the dangers and scams out there.

    I did install Windows Live Family Safety Filter which works excellent. It allows for various settings. I have it set to only allow the websites I personally allow.

    Thanks for the article

    Tex

    • Bill Mullins

      Hey Tex,

      There’s no doubt, that it’s a struggle to ensure children stay safe on the Internet. Installing Windows Live Family Safety Filter definitely makes the work, in doing so, a bit easier. A very smart move on your part.

      Bill

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  3. Liam O' Moulain

    Bill,

    I have young children, and I follow your advice to the letter when it comes to protecting them from the dangers on the Internet.

    Great article.

    Liam

  4. Ranjan

    Generation gap is also one of the major problems causing lack of communication between the parents and children.

    • Bill Mullins

      Hey Ranjan

      Here’s what Socrates said 2,300 years ago about the generation gap – “Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders, and love chatter in places of exercise. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.”

      The more things change, the more they remain the same, Ranjan. :)

      Bill

  5. John

    Hi Bill,

    Very interesting topic, and one I must admit to not thinking about too much before.

    But it’s time for me to now do something about this lack of thought on my behalf, as my young daughter is just getting to the stage where she wants to hang out more on our WWW, even if it is only to learn how to make such things as pom poms. :-)

    I thank you Bill for raising my awareness and I will certainly be giving this toolbar a spin.

    Cheers
    John

    • Bill Mullins

      Hi John,

      Kids, just like us, are pretty curious, and since the Internet can satisfy virtually any curiosity, that makes it inherently dangerous for the unwary. It takes time, effort, and education to develop an appropriate sense of what might constitute a potentially dangerous situation on the Internet.

      We need to do much more to help children/teenagers, develop the skills they need to use the Internet in a safe and age appropriate manner.

      Good on you for putting this issue on the front burner.

      Best,

      Bill

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  7. Bill,
    Articles like this are a great service to your readers. Nice work. The controls you rightly mention are both necessary and a partial solution. The predators…and the kids, will find ways to circumvent the controls. However, as you point out, educating our kids is the long-term answer.
    My granddaughters’ school district of 45 schools has partnered with iSafe, Inc., a federal grant funded organization for the education of our kids in safe use of the Internet. Their site http://www.isafe.org states their mission as ” i-SAFE incorporates classroom curriculum with dynamic community outreach to empower students, teachers, parents, law enforcement, and concerned adults to make the Internet a safer place. Please join us today in the fight to safeguard our children’s online experience.”
    This service is free to all schools in the US .
    Thanks for all you do.
    Paul

    • Bill Mullins

      Thank you Paul, for taking the time to inform us of i-SAFE, which, I must admit, I was unaware of.

      This is the type of organization that can have great impact in educating children, and by extension their parents, in safe Internet practices. I applaud their efforts.

      Thanks for coming by on a Saturday night – on a holiday weekend, no less. :)

      Bill

  8. While you are quite right in that a responsible parent should be active in protecting their children on the Internet, I do feel that you over-dramatize the problem.

    Consider, e.g., “Let me ask you this question – would you drop off your child, or teenager, in a neighborhood where more than half of the buildings were adult stores, and which was potentially full of predators?”: Certainly, the Internet is nowhere near of being a match for this description.

    In fact, looking at “old-style” websites, it is unlikely that children will be exposed to more sexual (or otherwise often considered inappropriate) content than on TV—unless they explicitly go looking for it. I am, myself, a heavy user of the Internet (and have been so for longer than most), and I rarely see anything that I would be hesitant of displaying to even a 10 y.o. (Well, except for fear that he would consider me a boring old geezer.) Indeed, in many ways, parental control is in many ways about preventing children from deliberately following potentially dangerous paths.

    Some reservations have to be made for “social media”, where I do not spend much time, but even here a grain of salt should be applied: The number of legitimate 14-17 y.o. boys flirting with 14 y.o. girls far exceeds the number of sexual predators. The infamous Chatroulette may be a bad idea to visit, but for the most part social media should be likened to crossing the road: Look carefully in both directions, use the official crossing, do not walk against red, whatnot, and you will be fine.

    Obviously, parents must also bear in mind the dangers that were present in the pre-Internet era: How many teenagers spent time with bad seeds? Sniffed glue? Had sex earlier than their parents wanted? Shop-lifted? Talked to complete strangers, in person, in the mall?

    • Bill Mullins

      Hi Michael,

      Well, I can’t disagree with your personal experiences on the Internet – they are, after all, your personal experiences. Statistics, on the other hand, take into account the experiences of a broad range of people, and I feel confident in using the experiences of a broad range of people, as opposed to anecdotal evidence.

      I have used limited statistics in this article, only enough to make the point. However, there is a wealth of supporting statistics available, particularly on the site Enough is Enough; a site supported by the U.S. Department of Justice.

      Thank you for the comment, and of course, for visiting.

      Bill

  9. Adrian

    “Clearing the browser cache so that their Internet history cannot be tracked”

    Yeah, I’ve done that…

  10. Andy

    Another great article Bill, I would like to recommend K9, It is a free parental control product made by Bluecoat. You can download K9 from here http://www1.k9webprotection.com/

    I have used this product on my two sons PC’s for years and K9 does exactly what is says it does, protects your children on line. Here is a video which shows you how K9 web protection works http://www.youtube.com/user/mrizos#p/a/u/1/pzb4C4Byx_c
    I recommend K9 WEB PROTECTION to protect your children on line and it’s free.

    Thanks Bill!

    Andy.

    • Bill Mullins

      Hi Andy,

      There’s nothing better than a personal recommendation, from a long time user, to confirm an application’s value.

      You’ve mentioned, in the past, how impressed you are with K9, and I’m glad you brought this forward again. Hopefully, readers will take note of your recommendation and check this out.

      Thanks Andy.

      Bill

  11. CE

    Hi Bill,

    I must say I agree with you and respectfully disagree with Michael Eriksson. My browsing habits are staid and relatively limited yet even on youtube watching completely innocent clips, the sidebars often show leads to far more suggestive video–one click away. A dangerous place for children all the way around.

    No question that the best defense is a good offense when it comes to protecting the kids. And START EARLY. Kids that can’t yet read can navigate onto the web. We regularly get skyped by my 4 year old niece.

    Thanks for this excellent article.
    –CE

    • Bill Mullins

      Thank you CE. I appreciate your support on this challenging issue. I particularly like your advice – “START EARLY”. It’s so very sensible.

      Good to hear from you.

      Bill

    • The critical part is “one click away”: If the child does not make that one click, he is on the safe-side—and again, it is a question of what the child does or does not do.

      (But, true, there is some danger of being “rick-rolled” with a less than pleasent video.)

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