Child Safety on the Internet

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What Are the Risks?

There are a few risks for children who use online services. Teenagers are particularly at risk because they often use the computer unsupervised and because they are more likely than younger children to participate in online discussions regarding companionship, relationships, or sexual activity. Some risks are:

Exposure to Inappropriate Material
One risk is that a child may be exposed to inappropriate material of a sexual or violent nature.

Physical Molestation
Another risk is that, while online, a child might provide information or arrange an encounter that could risk his or her safety or the safety of other family members. In a few cases, pedophiles have used online, services and bulletin boards to gain a child's confidence and then arrange a face-to-face meeting.

Harassment
A third risk is that a child might encounter E-mail or bulletin board messages that are harassing, demeaning, or belligerent.

How Parents Can Reduce the Risks

Most online services and Internet providers allow parents to limit their children's access to certain services and features such as adult oriented "chat" and bulletin boards. Check for these when you first subscribe. In addition there are now programs designed specifically to enable parents to prevent children from accessing inappropriate materials on the Internet. These tools, while not foolproof, are useful for helping parents control children's access, but they cannot take the place of parental involvement and supervision.

The Internet and some private bulletin boards contain areas designed specifically for adults who wish to post, view, or read sexually explicit material. Most private bulletin board operators who post such material limit access to people who attest that they are adults but, like any other safeguards, be aware that there are always going to be cases where adults fail to enforce them or children find ways around them.

The best way to assure that your children are having positive online experiences is to stay in touch with what they are doing. One way to do this is to spend time with your children while they're online. Have them show you what they do and ask them to teach you how to access the services.

While children and teenagers need a certain amount of privacy, they also need parental involvement and supervision in their daily lives. The same general parenting skills that apply to the "real world" also apply while online.

If you have cause for concern about your children's online activities, talk to them. Also seek out the advice and counsel of other computer users in your area and become familiar with literature on these systems. Open communication with your children, utilization of such computer resources, and getting online yourself will help you obtain the full benefits of these systems and alert you to any potential problem that may occur with their use.

Guidelines for Parents

By taking responsibility for your children's online computer use, parents can greatly minimize any potential risks of being online. Make it a family rule to:

Should you become aware of the transmission, use, or viewing of child pornography while online, immediately report this to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children by calling 1-800-843-5678. You should also notify your online service.

Be sure to make this a family activity. Consider keeping the computer in a family room rather than the child's bedroom. Get to know their "online friends" just as you get to know all of their other friends.

My Rules For Online Safety

This information has been collected from information supplied by a collaboration of the National Crime Prevention Council, the National Sheriff's Association and Radio Shack.