The tech helper: Keeping your kids safe online (Feature)
By Jay Dougherty Oct 2, 2010, 3:06 GMT
Washington - The internet is scary enough for adults. For kids, whose experience in real life is limited, the internet presents special challenges when it comes to safety.
How can you equip your kids with the knowledge to work and play safely online? And what software tools can you use to help give you some peace of mind? Read on for some answers.
Q: I'm about to give my daughter a computer of her own. What should I make sure she understands about internet security?
A: The best defence that kids have against getting into trouble online is knowledge of what not to do and what to watch out for, so it's wise of you to think about talking to your daughter rather than relying solely on security software. Here are some ideas.
First, make sure that she knows your rules about what she may and may not do online - and when she can use the computer altogether. Set limits that you can realistically supervise, and establish beforehand the consequences that will result from breaking the rules.
Beyond rules, though, you should equip your daughter with knowledge of best practices when it comes to protecting her identity and reputation.
Tell her not to use her real name anywhere on the internet. Screen names, online signatures and login credentials should all be reasonably anonymous. It's even a good idea to suggest or require that any screen name she creates sound either neutral or masculine. Feminine sounding screen names are more likely to attract unwanted attention.
Also, of course, instill in her a healthy does of suspicion about people she meets online. Tell her never to give strangers her name, address, or details about her school or places she goes. And be sure that she knows to come to you if someone online should make her feel uncomfortable.
Give her a bit of advice, too, about do's and don'ts of social networks such as Facebook. Tell her that things that she reveals about herself online can come back to haunt her in the future.
Remind her that what she posts online can often be difficult or impossible to remove. So not only should she check with you about the sites she joins, but, depending upon her age and your level of trust in her, you should probably also have access to her accounts on those sites so that you can monitor what is happening.
Finally, remind your daughter that, absent the facial expressions and body language that humans rely upon to communicate in the real world, words that she types on the internet can easily be misconstrued. So it's important that she think carefully about what she writes and not respond in anger or haste.
Q: We are torn about whether to allow our kids to use their computers in their bedrooms.
A: If you have any doubts at all about your children's ability to use their computers responsibly, it's probably a bad idea to allow them to use computers in their bedroom, for several reasons.
First, kids often have difficulty limiting their time on computers, and, unless you exercise careful control over when the machines are on, you may quickly find yourself with sleep-deprived children.
If the computers are internet-connected, the temptation to stay on them for much of the night will likely be too great. Social sites such as Facebook are hugely attractive to kids, as are instant messaging systems and Skype.
You can, of course, install parental controls on your kids' computers. These will allow you to establish limits on which sites they can visit and how long they can use the machines. However, a savvy child can find a way around most parental controls. So even if you use those, be sure to do spot check that controls are still in place.
Q: How can I protect my kids from landing on websites that are not appropriate?
A: There are multiple approaches you can take here. If you're allowing your child to use the internet unprotected by parental control software, at the least you should adjust all 'safe search' options in search engines so that known pornographic or other potentially inappropriate content is never seen by your kids.
An easy way to do this - and more - is to use the K9 Web Protection tool (http://www1.k9webprotection.com), which is free for home use and available for both Windows and Macintosh systems. K9 will force most search engines - including Google and Yahoo - to use the Safe Search feature.
The tool has many other safeguards built in as well and is a good first step, especially if you're still using an older operating system that does not include parental controls, such as Windows XP.
If you're using Vista or Windows 7, you have web filtering built in to the parental control utility in those operating systems. K9 may still be a good adjunct, however. Experiment with both to see which you prefer.
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