The Child Internet Safety FAQ


Last modified 30-Jan-03

What is this document?

This document is a collection of Frequently Asked Questions about child safety on the internet, and their answers. Most of these FAQs have been collected from various locations around on the internet and brought together here as reference for parents, teachers, librarians, child care workers, in short anybody interested in ensuring the safety of children as they use the internet. It is not intended to be a definitive source of all internet related safety information, but rather a central repository of the most common questions that arise.


 

What dangers does the Internet pose to children?
The Internet is an uncensored source of information that is not necessarily designed for children. Exploring the Internet without adult supervision or guidance can expose a child to sites that are harmful (sites that advocate violence, that are sexually explicit, that encourage inappropriate behavior). There are some people that use chat rooms or Instant Messenger programs to make inappropriate contact with children.

How do Internet filters work?
There are many commercial Internet filters on the market. They generally work on several levels. They often search web sites for lists of inappropriate words. They often check the address (url) of web sites against lists of known sites that are not good for children.

How effective are Internet filters?
There are many Internet filters available on the market. They tend to look for identified objectionable sites and filter for inappropriate words. Recent research indicates that even the best filters may only capture 75% of the objectionable sites. Filters occasionally block sites that are of legitimate interest. Filters can be a helpful tool, but they will not replace the careful guidance of concerned parents and teachers.

What are child-safe Search Engines?
There are a number of so-called child safe search engines available on the web. These sites tend to be directories of known safe sites that are reviewed by individuals. Using these directories (e.g. Yahooligans, Kids Click, and Ask Jeeves for Kids) children can learn to use search strategies without accidentally stumbling into a dangerous site.

How can I protect my children from inappropriate Internet sites?
Only allow your students to use the Internet under direct adult supervision. Pay strict attention to what the children are doing, by randomly checking on their behavior, and by looking for telltale signs of guilt such as turning, dimming or obscuring the screen, glancing over shoulders, etc. Scan computers regularly with porn detection software.

Take inservice courses in the instructional use of the Internet. Remember that if you want to use the Internet with your students, you must take the Internet II course through the Teacher's Center. (See Teacher Center schedule)

Select the specific sites that you want the students to use. You can work with your building librarian on selecting the sites. Link to these sites using a Web Quest, or link to them through Word or PowerPoint.

Encourage students to evaluate Internet research sources critically. Demand that students respect copyright and intellectual property. Include properly formatted Works Cited lists as part of research assignments. (For more information about copyright see Education World's series on copyright and the Internet).

What can I do as a parent to protect my child?
Make the Internet a family experience. Monitor your child's use and discuss Internet safety as part of the experience. If you allow chat or IM be sure that you know who your child is chatting with. Insist on moderated chat rooms. Consider keeping your Internet computer in public place (e.g. the family room). Consider putting a filter on you computer or use the access controls that may come with your Internet Service provider (e.g. AOL's Parent Controls). Be sure the children know how to protect their privacy. (See Yahooligans Parental Guidelines for further suggestions)

Should I allow my child to use IM or Chat Rooms?
Chat rooms and Instant Messenger programs are very popular with children. They love to get online with their friends. Unfortunately students don't always know who they are really chatting with. Students are not allowed to use IM or chat rooms at the OA schools unless they are online as part of an instructional activity directed by a teacher.

If you allow your children to use chat or IM at home follow a couple of simple precautions: 1) Know with whom your child is chatting. 2) Only allow your child to enter moderated chat rooms (i.e. rooms that are supervised by a responsible adult). 3) Monitor your child's Internet use, make this a family experience.

How safe are my childrenI when surfing the internet?
Generally speaking, the Internet is a pretty safe place. But the Internet can be dangerous, just like there are dangers to anything you do in real life.

What are some of the dangers of the Internet?
When you go on the Internet, you risk the chance of downloading a computer virus, having your personal information sold to companies, having your surfing patterns and demographics tracked through cookies, and having your credit card number stolen. Additionally there is the possibility that you or somebody else may encounter porn or other adult material that offends them or event cause psychological injury.

Is it safe to trust people I meet on the Internet?
There are people on the Internet who can be trusted, but there are also people on the Internet who can't be trusted, and it is very difficult to tell them apart. Your best bet is not to trust anyone you don't know in person.

What should I do to protect my kids while they are online?
A good idea would be to create a Internet Usage contract with your kids and post it on the wall next to the computer. You can view a sample contract here. Please visit our Parents Tips page.

What can I tell my child about chatting online?
Chatting online, like other aspects of Internet use, should be governed by common sense. Remind your child that people in chat rooms are strangers and are not always who they say they are. Your child should never give out any personal information, including his or her real name, address, school, or other ?clues? which might allow someone to locate them. Again, the bottom line is that your children will take what you teach them wherever they go. Teach them to use the filter between their ears.

My child often receives e-mails with links to adult sites. Does this mean he's been
visiting pornography sites?
No. Even if your child does not visit adult sites, sometimes the adult sites come looking for visitors. They do this by sending out bulk, unsolicited e-mail, called ?spam.? So, before you punish your child, know that the unwanted emails are probably not a result of your child?s online surfing. There are no federal laws governing spam yet, but surfing online anonymously will help reduce the spam your child receives.

How can I teach my children about Internet safety when I do not understand the
Internet?
Safety on the Internet isn?t about technology-it?s about common sense. Just as you wouldn?t want your child to meet and share private matters with a stranger in the real world, you wouldn?t want them to do so online. So, talking with your children about safety on the Internet just means talking to them about common sense. The bottom line is that your children shouldn?t do anything online that they wouldn't do in the real world.

What are the dangers that I should be concerned about?
Yes, there are dangers on the Internet. If you learn how to protect yourself you will be safe. One of the dangers that you need to look out for, are predators. You can protect your children from predators by monitoring your child's activity. Another danger is that your child will be able to access pornography and violent information. You can install filtering software that will help to block out this type of information. No system is fool proof, but it can help to block some of it. There are many more things you can do to be safe. Read through this article for more information.

What about my privacy? Am I anonymous while I am on the Internet?
No you are not anonymous while on the Internet. When you log into your provider you are assigned an IP number. Whenever you log into a Web site, chat room or forum the number can be traced. Is this dangerous? Not really! With millions of visitors to the Internet each day, most Websites wouldn't have the time to track everyone down. Also, your Internet service provider would have to be willing to give out your name.
Through the use of cookies, Websites can tell if you have been there before, by checking your cookie file. Some people are upset by this, but cookies also provide "remember me" features, which enable great features on the Internet.

Should I install filtering software, like Net Nanny?
Installing filtering software on your home computer is a personal decision. I do recommend it for a couple of reasons. First of all, there are several sites out there that try to trick you to come to pornography. They trick you by providing redirecting scripts at search engines and they will have addresses that are very close to popular children's Web sites. With filtering software installed it will help to protect you from stumbling into pornography by accident. Please note that if your child is determined to view pornography, he or she will figure out a way to bypass software. Also, no software is completely fool proof when it comes to blocking inappropriate sites. What you determine to be inappropriate, may be deemed appropriate by another. For more information about filtering software and how it works, visit Your Guide To Filtering Software.

Another option is using a filtered Internet Service Provider.

Should I allow my child to chat?
This really depends on your child. Chat rooms are the most common place to get into trouble. Predators will hang around in children's chat room and pose as a child. If you decide to let your child chat, I recommend at least using a monitored chat room. Remember though, just because it is monitored, it does not mean that it is completely safe. If you allow your child to chat, you should be close by and watching the conversation.

What are the chances of my child getting to pornography?
If you are online, most likely you will run across pornography. Many of the pornographic sites use different tricks to get you to visit them. Often they will have addresses that are very close to popular children's sites. Another trick is to buy a former child site and have it redirect to pornography. Unfortunately, when you search for just about any topic, you will get results to porn site with foul language. Try a filtered search engine, to get family friendly results. Another way to protect your child from viewing pornography is to install filtering software or get a filtered Internet service provider.

Should I let my child have their own email address?
Letting your child have their own email address is fine. First explain to them though, that you will have to monitor it. Before your child opens his or her mailbox, go through and check the contents. Is this eavesdropping? Well yes, but there is no such thing as privacy on the Internet. The email that you receive could have been read by anyone along it's trip to you. Also, at some point they will probably receive pornographic spam. Better safe than sorry here.

Should I give out my email address when requested at Web sites?
Many sites are requiring registration before you can view their information. Before giving out your email address to questionnaires online, you should check their privacy statement. Privacy statements are usually followed by the companies that write them, especially with companies that have registered with Truste. To err on the safe side, you may want to go register for a free email address with About.com or Hotmail. That way you protect your email account from spam (unsolicited email).

I don't snoop in my child's diary, why should I check up on their activity while on the Net?
A child has complete control over anything in their own diary but on the internet there are other dangerous forces at work that they do not have control over, such as the insidious behavior of internet predators, identity thieves and the ever present danger of exposure to sexual material they are not ready for.

I don't snoop in my child's diary either, but the Internet is a completely different animal. There are predators out there and she may have wandered into something that she just isn't mature enough to handle. Drive the point home with your kids that there is no such thing as complete privacy on the Internet. Any communication can be incepted by anyone along the way.

How can we safely find information that we want to look up?
First of all, do not try typing in addresses. This will almost always give you pornography. It is very common for pornographic sites to use close addresses to popular ones. For instance the White House is located at http://www.whitehouse.gov. A pornographic site is at http://www.whitehouse.com. Try to use a filtered search engine. There are several good ones available.

Should I make my child a list of rules?
Yes! If a child doesn't know what is expected and what isn't, then you can't expect him not to get into trouble. Make a big deal out of the rules! Make them sign an agreement and let them know what the consequences will be if they don't follow them.

How can I protect myself on the Net?
Be VERY careful to whom you give personal information and where you post information. Use a "nonsense" password that has no relation to you as a person; use a combination of numbers, symbols, and letters and make sure it is at least 6 characters long. Change your password frequently and NEVER give it out. Try not to keep it written down. Avoid using the same password for multiple accounts.

If you are a woman, you may want to avoid usernames that are obviously female anytime you are on the Net, depending on the net.community you are participating in. (Your first initial and last name combine to make a good, easy to remember, and gender-neutral user name.) This includes e-mail, IRC channels or chat rooms, bulletin boards, etc. Learn what kind of anti-abuse procedures are in place in the community. IRC channels usually have two or more "ops" (operators) around, who have the power and authority to ban abusive users from the channel. If there is no op on a channel, contact the IRCops of your IRC server; these names are given when you first sign onto the server. Visit http://www.irchelp.org to learn more.

Check web sites that provide information about people (like Four 11, WhoWhere, etc.) to see what information is available about you. Ask that any entries about you be deleted or edit them to give only a P.O. Box as an address and a phone number that isn't answered (maybe the line that gives the time and weather in town). You may want to visit one of the meta search engines (Dogpile, Fast Search, etc.) and search for your name as well.

Don't give out credit card numbers in a non-secure environment. If you're making a purchase through a web site, read the company's security policy before you buy. A secure web page will usually have a URL that begins "https" (instead of "http"), and most browers will alert you to the fact that you are going to a secured (or unsecured) page. No reputable merchant will ask you for your mother's maiden name and Social Security Number "to verify that you're the card holder." If you are asked for this information on the Net, it may be part of a scam by a thief who is looking for gullible victims willing to hand over their wallets, credit histories, and reputations.

 

Other Advocates of Child Safety on the internet:

Criminal Justice Services - Operation Safe Child
Coalition for Children - Safety on the Internet
KidsHealth - Internet Safety guidance
SafetyEd - Educating parents about child safety
Microsoft guide to helping keep kids safe online
National PTA internet safety
Wired Safety - Discussions about all aspects of computer related child safety

Child Safety guidance from government and school related sources:

CIESE - Internet safety for adults and students
Tips regarding parental control of home computers.Also discusses software tools.
Oakland County Sheriff's Department Internet Safety guide
Police Notebook - Kids Safety on the internet
FCC- Children's Internet Protection Act
Lycos Internet Safety and Security
BBC News - Internet safety for children targeted
American Library Association - Resources for parents and children

 
 
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