McAfee Inc., a well known and respected provider of antivirus software and intrusion prevention solutions, recently released new research which indicates that most American mothers rate their teenagers’ online safety, their exposure to drugs and drunk driving, as essentially equal anxiety producing agents.
So, are 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, as my Internet friend Rick Robinette, the owner of the Web site, What’s on My PC, a recently retired Law Enforcement specialist puts it, “the underbelly of the internet”.
The sad reality is, contrary to the myth that we have raised, or are raising a “tech savvy” generation – 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.
Consider this – 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 be doing.
Additional McAfee 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? According to the FBI in the United States, 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
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
ParentalControl Bar, a browser toolbar, is one solution provided free of charge, by WRAAC.org, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing free, and effective Internet control tools.
You can download this application from the developer’s site.
Check out my review of this free application on this site “Free Internet Child Protection – Parental Control Bar”.
For additional information on monitoring your child’s cell phone usage (most cell phones today are really Internet connected devices), see “Parental Monitoring And Cellular Phones” by my tech wizard friend TechPaul.