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«Parenting Online What do we do when our eight-year-old knows more than we do about cyberspace? How do we guide our children safely through this new ...»

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Parenting Online

What do we do when our eight-year-old knows more than we do about

cyberspace? How do we guide our children safely through this new

world? How do we set the rules when we don't even understand the

risks? The childproof locks, seatbelts and helmets we use to help keep

them safe in everyday life won't protect them in cyberspace. There we

need new and different gadgets and safety tips.

Welcome to the new world of parenting online! It's your newest

challenge. But don't worry...it's not as hard as you think and it's well worth the effort.

Parenthood is never easy and the ground rules are always changing.

We go from playing the role of confidante, to co-conspirator, to police chief, to teacher, to playmate and back...all in the same day. We barely have the chance to catch our breath!

The things we do to make sure our children stay safe are constantly changing too. When they crawl, we learn how to keep things off the floor. Then, they pull themselves upright; we have to keep them safe from the new dangers at eye level. Training wheels have to be removed, and we have to watch while they pedal away (generally into the nearest tree). We watch their sugar intake, make sure they take their vitamins and keep small items out of their mouths.

That's our job, as parents. So the tried and true warnings, passed down from generation to generation, are repeated... "don't talk to strangers...," "come straight home from school...," "don't provoke fights...," "don't tell anyone personal information about yourself..." and "we need to meet your friends..." This is familiar territory after all. We know the dangers our kids face in the street, at the mall, or in the schoolyard, because we faced them.

As in any large community, there are dangers our children encounter in cyberspace, too. But, since our children know more than we do about cyberspace, we worry about how we can teach them to avoid those dangers. Don't panic... those dangers can be managed using the same old warnings we've always used.

We just need to translate them into cyberspace terms...

And there are wonders around every cyber-corner too...

The Internet is the largest collection of information in the world, always available without a charge and delivered to your home computer. Every question you might have can be answered online. When your

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You can search online for just about anything and any information you want. The easiest way to do that is by using search engines. You can type your search into one of the search engines and often will find what you are seeking. Just as often, though, you will find sites that are trying to get your or your children's attention. Pornographers are the most frequent abusers of search engines, registering and coding their sites to trick people into visiting them, thinking they are Disney, Pokemon or even the White House.

Most of the search engines now have filtering options. By selecting one of these options, most inappropriate content is filtered out and the search results are typically kid-friendly. Two commercial search engines were designed just for kids, though, and are wonderful places to begin your child's search online. Yahooligans!, Yahoo! kid-sized search engine hand-selects the sites, making sure nothing slips through. It is best for younger children, ten and under. Ask Jeeves for Kids is Ask Jeeves kid-sized search engine. Although not as scrubbed clean as Yahooligans! hand-selected sites, it contains many more sites, which make it perfect for slightly older children. I recommend it for children ten and older.

In addition, most full-size search engines have a filtered option you can select. But remember that even if you use a search engine filter, if the kids search for images, the can find things you wish they hadn’t. That’s when using a filtering product that can block images too might come in handy.

In addition to kid-sized search engines, there are many wonderful family-friendly site lists. WiredKids has one of its own, where the sites are selected and reviewed by our specially trained volunteers. You can even recommend your favorite sites to be added.

There are some entertaining sites that teach children online safety, as well. Although we prefer our WiredKids.org, StopCyberbullying.org and InternetSuperHeroes.org the best, (she says modestly...) there are some very special ones we want to point out. Disney's Surfswellisland.com teaches online safety Disney-style. Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Minnie Mouse and Goofy all find themselves involved in tropic island cyber-challenges relating to viruses, privacy, netiquette (cyber-etiquette) and responsible surfing.

Lesson plans, online safety worksheets and other wonderful resources are all available without charge at the site. Larry Magid's Safekids.com is a long time respected site with thousands of tips and online safety resources. He has a teen-sized version as well, at Safeteens.com.

Looking for homework help? Check out Discovery.com, Nationalgeographic.org, PBSkids.org and The National Gallery of Art kids page www.nga.gov/kids/kids.htm. And ask your school librarian or the librarian at your public library for sites they recommend. Librarians and library media specialists are the guides to valuable and safe online resources for children. And if you need something you can't find, send me an email at “Ask Parry,” my Internet-syndicated online safety column. Drop by WiredKids.org or WiredSafety.org to find out how to submit a question.

CyberSense...translating common sense for cyberspace Don't talk to or accept anything from strangers. That's the first one we learn while growing up, and • the first one we teach our children. The problem in cyberspace though is teaching "stranger danger."

Online, it's hard to spot the strangers. The people they chat with enter your home using your computer.

Our kids feel safe with us seated nearby. Their "stranger" alerts aren't functioning in this setting. Unless they know them in real life, the person is a stranger no matter how long they have chatted online. Period.

You need to remind them that these people are strangers, and that all of the standard stranger rules apply.

You also must teach them that anyone can masquerade as anyone else online. The "12-year-old" • girl they have been talking to may prove to be forty-five year old man. It's easy for our children to spot an adult in a schoolyard, but not as easy to do the same in cyberspace.

Come straight home after school. Parents over the generations • have always known that children can get into trouble when they wander around after school. Wandering aimlessly online isn't any different. Parents need to know their children are safe, and doing something productive, like homework. Allowing your children to spend unlimited time online, surfing aimlessly, is asking for trouble.

Make sure there's a reason they're online. If they are just • surfing randomly, set a time limit. You want them to come home after they're done, to human interaction and family activities (and homework).

Don't provoke fights. Trying to provoke someone in cyberspace • is called "flaming." It often violates the "terms of service" of your online service provider and will certainly get a reaction from other people online. Flaming matches can be heated, long and extended battles, moving from a chat room or discussion group to e-mail quickly. If your child feels that someone is flaming them, they should tell you and the sysop (system operator, pronounced sis-op) or moderator in charge right away and get offline or surf another area. They shouldn't try to defend themselves or get involved in retaliation. It's a battle they can never win.

Don’t take candy from strangers. While we don’t take candy from people online, we do often accept • attachments. And just like the offline candy that might be laced with drugs or poisons, a seemingly innocent attachment can destroy your computer files, pose as you and destroy your friends or spy on you without you even knowing it. Use a good anti-virus, update it often and try one of the new spyware blockers. You can get a list of the ones we recommend at WiredSafety.org. Practice safe computing!

Don't tell people personal things about yourself. You never really know who you're talking to online.

• And even if you think you know who you are talking to, there could be strangers lurking and reading your posts without letting you know that they are there. Don't let your children put personal information on profiles. It's like writing your personal diary on a billboard. With children especially, sharing personal information puts them at risk. Make sure your children understand what you consider personal information, and agree to keep it confidential online and everywhere else. Also teach them not to give away information at Web sites, in order to register or enter a contest, unless they ask your permission first. And, before you give your permission, make sure you have read the Web site's privacy policy, and that they have agreed to treat your personal information, and your child's, responsibly.

We need to get to know your friends. Get to know their online friends, just as you would get to know • their friends in everyday life. Talk to your children about where they go online, and who they talk to.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T. We all know the golden rule. We have a special one for cyberspace. Don’t do anything • online you wouldn’t do offline. If you teach your child to respect others online and to follow the rules of netiquette they are less likely to be cyberbullied, become involved in online harassment or be hacked online. You can learn more about the ways to combat cyberbullying at our new Web site, StopCyberbullying.org or at WiredSafety.org’s cyberstalking and harassment section. Remember that it is just as likely that your child is a cyberbully (sometimes by accident) as a victim of one. Let them know they can trust you not to make matters worse. You have to be the one they come to when bad things happen. Be worthy of that trust.

Remember that the new handheld and interactive gaming devices you buy have real risks too. Your children can send and receive text-messages form anyone on their cell phones or text-messaging devices and interactive games allow them to chat, on Internet phone, to anyone who wants to talk with them. The new Bluetooth devices let your child receive messages form anyone in a 300-foot range, and could be a problem if they play the new Bluetooth handheld games in a mall. Think about the features you are buying when you buy new devices for your children. Check into privacy and security settings.

Our Teenangels (teenangels.org) are working on new guides for parents and other teens on what to look for and think about before you buy a new interactive device. Look for them at your local retailer or on the WiredSafety.org and Teenangels.org Web sites.

Don't just set up the computer in the corner of their bedroom, and leave them to surf alone. Take a look at their computer monitor every once in awhile, it keeps them honest. Sit at their side while they compute when you can. It will help you set rules that make sense for your child. It also gives you an unexpected benefit...you'll get a personal computing lesson from the most affordable computer expert you know!

And it's worth the effort. When our children surf the Internet, they are learning skills that they will need for their future. They become explorers in cyberspace, where they explore ideas and discover new information.

Also, because there is no race, gender or disability online, the Internet is the one place where our children can be judged by the quality of their ideas, rather than their physical attributes.

What Tech Tools Are Out There?

Blocking, filtering and monitoring...when you need a little help There are many tools available to help parents control and monitor where their children surf online. Some even help regulate how much time a child spends playing computer games, or prevent their accessing the Internet during certain preset times.

I've listed the type of protections that are available. But, most of the popular brands now offer all of these features, so you don't have to choose. Recently, given parents' concerns about strangers communicating with their children online, monitoring software has gained in popularity. Although it might have its place in protecting a troubled child, it feels more like "spyware" than child protection.

But it's ultimately your choice as a parent. The newest trend is to use products supplied by your ISP called parental controls. AOL's parental controls were the first of these to be developed and used. MSN 8.0 launched the first set of parental controls for MSN. To read more about the various products and services we have reviewed, visit WiredKids.org and WiredSafety.org.

Blocking Software Blocking software is software that uses a "bad site" list. It blocks access to sites on that list. They may also have a "good site" list, which prevents your child from accessing any site not on that list. Some of the software companies allow you to customize the lists, by adding or removing sites from the lists. I recommend you only consider software that allows you to customize the list, and lets you know which sites are on the lists.


Filtering software uses certain keywords to block sites or sections of sites on the fly. Since there is no way any product can keep up with all the site online, this can help block all the sites, which haven't yet been reviewed. The software blocks sites containing these keywords, alone or in context with other keywords.

Some companies allow you to select certain types of sites to block, such as those relating to sex, drugs or hate. This feature engages special lists of keywords that match that category. As with the "bad site" lists, the lists of keywords used by the filtering software should be customizable by the parent, and every parent should be able to see which terms are filtered.

Outgoing Filtering

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