Sending a child out into the world is probably one of the scariest ideas facing parents. But today, that fear is compounded without the child ever leaving home thanks to the internet. Just as the internet can open your child up to the wonders of education, interactivity, and socialization with other people across the world, it can also let in everything from relatively minor risks such as viruses and mal-ware on your computers to the larger dangers such as predators, bullying, and identity theft.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has compiled a comprehensive guide to how to identify if your child has been contacted by internet predators (http://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/parent-guide/parent-guide). Other guidelines to maintaining internet security with your children include:
- Anti-Virus/Malware—Keep your computer’s anti-virus and malware software updated and speak to your children about how these programs work. Many sites today use “free” versions of popular gaming characters including Mario Brothers and Sonic the Hedgehog to entice kids in while secretly making you the victim of a cyber attack. Once these viruses take hold, your household network security may be compromised. Talk to your children and educate them about stayingaway from these kind of sites and always informing you when the anti-virus software identifies something that they are doing as a potential hazard or threat.
- Content-Control Software—Another quite affordable software option is content-control software. This is sometimes referred to as “net nanny” software after one of the first and most popular companies to produce this type of product, but there are many to choose (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_content-control_software). These programs can provide a variety of services including blocking pornographic websites, limiting total internet usage, and also blocking PC and online game activity.
- Supervision and Communication—Perhaps the greatest tool parents have in fighting off these dangers is themselves. Talk with your children about the dangers that they may face when on-line. Inform them never to give out personal information such as home phone numbers, addresses, or even school names as predators can use this information to locate a child. Also, strongly consider limiting the physical location of a computer to a shared family room or den where you can look over and see what the child is doing online. He or she is more likely to engage in risky online behavior if he or she has a computer in a private bedroom.
These simple tasks can help to maintain a healthy and safe home computing environment.