As parents, teachers, and other caregivers you need to be aware of the websites, chat rooms, and social networking sites children visit. For those new to the internet, and even experienced internet users, you can begin by taking the time to learn the best way to search for information. Knowing what children are doing on the internet at all times is often one of the best defenses.
With web cams built into newer computers, and a variety of web cams available for purchase, children can easily be seen and heard by others. There are also file transfer sites that have huge inventories of movies and music with ratings varying from G to XXX that can be downloaded, and these sites do not have a way to find out and track the age of those persons downloading and viewing the files.
Several years ago there was a news story about an adolescent girl who accidentally stumbled on an adult pornography website after typing 'Little Women' into the search bar to get information on the book by Louisa May Alcott. Typing the words boy scouts into a search bar lead my son, who was in the sixth grade at the time, to a very graphic adult homosexual website. Sending my son into another room I experimented by entering the number of his Boy Scout troop or Boy Scouts of America into the search bar.
Sometimes, typing very specific or more detailed information into the explorer, yahoo, AOL, Google, MSN or other search engines provide a better chance of accessing the right information. Of course that is not a guarantee, either. Sitting with your school age children when they are seeking information for a school paper, or looking up the information for them is a good idea.
You should take the computer out of the enclosed computer room and bedrooms, setting them up in a large open space in the dining room where you can see what children are doing on the computer at all times and where they will not have the opportunity to quickly minimize the page in order to cover up there internet activity. It is not always a good idea to let your children and their friends take a laptop to their bedrooms as it hard to monitor what they are doing. My children had to use my laptop in the dining room, family room, or living room. If I had to be gone from home in the evening and had no one to stay with my children after they were thirteen, I simply took the Ethernet cord off the desk top PC with me or disabled the modem until my return so that they could not go on-line while unsupervised.
You can also limit the time children are on the computer beyond schoolwork. Less time on the computer also lessens the chances children will end up accessing chat rooms or web sites where they could be enticed or develop unhealthy on-line relationships. Television and the computer are also two major causes of childhood obesity. I linked computer use to time spent outdoors. Of course, children, as mine did, become upset over the regulating of computer time and use but parenting choices are often unpopular with kids. Anyone staying with my kids when they were younger were also given strict guidelines as to how the two could use the internet and when.
There are software programs available that allow you to set ratings and monitor computer use. The ‘tools' link at the top of the internet explorer page takes you to internet options with tabs for security, privacy, and content. Under security you have the option to list both trusted and restricted sites and under content is a way to enable parental control. Under each tab parents can select whether settings are low, medium or medium-high or high, with each one having a specific filter. Some anti-virus programs and internet services provide security suites that provide an opportunity to set parental controls which are password protected to keep children from changing security and privacy levels.
You can see what sites your children have visited through the IE history log, which is automatically tracked by internet explorer. If you have Windows XP go to the control panel, click on the task bar and start menu, click on classic view and then the advanced link. This will take you to the name of each user. You can then click on their name and see the temporary files folder, the application data, and other individual links. You will then see IE history which lists all the visited sites.
With both Windows XP and Vista, going to tools at the top of your computer screen if you have Internet Explorer 7 loaded, you can click on it, and the drop down menu will appear. Click on internet options and temporary files. Clicking on view you can also see a list of visited websites. The drop down box of the search bars will also list the visited websites.
Messaging programs, which consume a large part of the time adolescents and teens spend on-line, also serves to provide a social networking outlet for children that can lead to the sharing of inappropriate information and behaviors. Some of the more popular messaging programs are MSN messenger, Yahoo and AOL messenger, and Windows Live messenger. Children can allow, or not allow, interested persons to be on their list of messenger contacts.
Children need to have the tools to help keep them safe, as well. I blocked access to chat rooms, but knew that was not enough. You should also teach children of all ages the dangers of the internet and to never reveal personal information like their real name, age, address and phone number, or the school they attend. You should encourage children to feel free to come to you if anyone on-line makes threats, speaks to them in a violent or sexually explicit way, or tries to pressure them to give out personal information so that you can notify the proper authorities and the web master.
By the time my children were teens, blogs like xanga.com (my eighteen year old daughter's favorite), facebook.com, and myspace.dot com, among others had become popular tools for social networking. You Tube is another site where registered members can post any kind of video taped content that can be imagined. These sites have provided a new venue for predators and pedophiles, as well as a venue to post violent content such as fights, drug use, etc. There are also websites that promote and teach how to be bulimic and anorexic and even sites that encourage and support suicide.
Educating your children, as I did, has a high probability of paying off. When my daughter opened her xanga.com blog, at fifteen, she informed me her account had been set up so that interested persons had to be invited in, or if a request were made by friends or others to be on her list she had to accept them. She had selected a user name that was not her real name, no picture was posted, and only her birth month and day was listed. And, if she did not know the peer personally who made the request to access her blog, she did not let them in since this way she was protecting herself from weirdoes and flakes.
Some teens and older adolescents can become belligerent if parents try to place too many controls or demands. This is a natural defiance as children, especially during the teenage years, feel they do not need to be monitored, that they know what to do, can take of any situation that may arise, and that you don't trust them. This is why working together with children in an informative and educational way is paramount. This way partnership and a relationship of trust are created, leaving children feeling inclusive. Let them know you trust them and that is out of love that you are providing guidelines and education so that they can keep themselves safe.
There are a variety of child and family friendly websites like http://www.familyfirst.org/, http://www.preschooleducation.com/, http://www.kids-space.org/, http://www.betweenthelions.org/, http://www.pbskids.org/, http://www.nickelodeon.com/, and of course, http://www.disney.com/. By adding these and other sites to the favorites menu children can be immediately directed to those pages with a click of the mouse. There are a plethora of games, activities, downloadable pages and templates available.
Setting guidelines and expectations for children regarding internet usage, tapping into available resources and software, and learning all the safety features included with windows and internet explorer, being aware of what children are doing on-line, and educating children on the dangers of the internet all help keep our children emotionally healthy and safe from predators and pedophiles. It also helps keep them from learning inappropriate and unhealthy behaviors.