Web-Proofing Your Kids
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for a special cabinet meeting marking 'Jerusalem Day' in the Ammunition Hill memorial in Jerusalem, Sunday, May 20, 2012. 'Jeruslem Day' marks the anniversary of Israel's capture of the eastern part of the city in the 1967 Mideast war.(AP Photo/Abir Sultan, Pool) / Abir Sultan
It shouldn't come as any surprise. A March 2005 survey by the Pew Internet & American Life project found that 87% of U.S. 12 to 17-year-olds have Internet access at home. More than half those families have broadband access, which means the Internet is always on. All a child has to do is sit down at the PC and he or she has access to the world.
Whether that's good or bad depends on what they are doing online, how long they are staying online and whether they are being careful not to jeopardize their safety and the safety, privacy and finances of the rest of the family.
I speak with a lot of parents about Internet safety and many express concerns because they feel that they have lost control over what their children are doing. They worry not only about what their kids might see and say online, but they are also concerned that being online not only exposes the rest of the world to them but, potentially, exposes them to the rest of the world as well. In other words, when kids go online, there is the risk that they might reveal information that could jeopardize not just their privacy but their safety as well.
It is a real issue. Kids, especially teens, spend an increasing amount of time in chat rooms, instant message sessions and interactive games where they are able to carry on a conversation with others.
Even carrying a cell phone puts them on the Internet, as most cell phones can be used to access the web and engage in interactive text messaging. When a child is in such a situation, anything he or she types can be read by anyone who happens to be in the room. Tragically, there are predators who have figured this out and who troll chat rooms looking for potential victims.
For more on Internet safety, click here to listen to Larry Magid's interview of Anne Collier, editor of NetFamilyNews.org.
There is a widespread belief that predators generally lie about their age or gender to lure children into a conversation. Is CyberSuzie really a 14-year-old girl or could "she" be a 40-year-old man? Some predators do lie about who they are, but, surprisingly, a 2004 study by the University of New Hampshire's Crimes Against Children Research Center found that "most offenders did not deceive victims about the fact that they were adults interested in sexual relationships."
The study, which was reported at a meeting of the American Psychological Association, also found that "the victims, primarily teens aged 13 to 15, met and had sex with the adults on more than one occasion." Half of the victims were described as being "in love with or feeling close bonds with the offenders," and few offenders "abducted or used force" to sexually abuse their victims.
The research was based on a survey of state and federal law enforcement investigators from over 2,500 law enforcement agencies between 2001 and 2002.
I don't know which is scarier: the fear of deception or the apparent reality that some kids are willingly meeting up with adults.
What this research suggests is that parents need to talk with their children not just about the basic rules of online safety but about the implications of being in a relationship with an adult they meet online.
The authors of the study suggest that "teenagers may benefit from being told directly about why such relationships are a bad idea and made to understand that adults who care about their well-being would not propose sexual relationships or involve them in risky encounters."
More than 11 years ago, I wrote a booklet about Internet safety for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children called "Child Safety on the Information Highway." In 1998, I did a follow up brochure called "Teen Safety on the Information Highway." Both of these brochures were updated in 2004 and copies are available online on my web sites: SafeKids.com and SafeTeens.com.
Those brochures have rules that kids should follow and they're worth reviewing, but rules are just a start. The most important thing you can do for your children is to sit down with them on a regular basis to talk about Internet safety and safety in general.
Don't make it a lecture, make it a conversation and don't just focus on the rules. Focus on helping them develop the judgment and critical thinking skills they need to safe. It's not just about the Internet or the way they use their mobile phone, it's about how they approach life, who they trust, and how they assess risk.
Even if the conversation feels a bit uncomfortable, parts of it will probably sink in and remain with your child not just when they're online, but when they're out and about facing other risks as well.
A syndicated technology columnist for nearly two decades, Larry Magid serves as on air Technology Analyst for CBS Radio News. His technology reports can be heard several times a week on the CBS Radio Network. Magid is the author of several books including "The Little PC Book."
By Larry Magid
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