Online Safety Advice For Parents

AOL online adviser Regina Lewis, talking on the Saturday Early Show about protecting your children on the Internet, recommended software that parents can buy. She talked about software that is built into certain ISPs (like AOL Parental Controls and such sites as Getnetwise.com).

Here are some good common-sense rules to keep in mind:

  • Technology is on your side. Take advantage of built-in resources like AOL Parental Controls, which allow you to determine the level of access you want your child to have. Blocking software that can be purchased online and at your local computer store works much the same way (price range $20 to $40).

    In technology terms, it's called a firewall and it's as if you've created a gated community that precludes kids from exploring online areas that may not be age appropriate. Third-party experts are used in developing the settings -- much like the motion picture industry relies on ratings. You may select one level of access for your 6 year old and another for your 16 year old. Either way, you're in the driver's seat.

  • Review the rules. Think how many times you remind your children to look both ways before crossing the street. Now, how may times do you to tell them not to give out personal information to strangers online?

    Given the amount of time kids are spending online these days, it's critical to continue to reiterate some basic online DO's and DON'Ts. Here are some of the biggies:

    • Don't give out personal information like your full name or address.
    • Never agree to meet someone in person without talking to your parents.
    • Never respond to bad or threatening language. Instead, try to report it to your online service provider or Web site and always tell your parents or teacher immediately.
    A more complete list can be found at SafeSurfin.com.
  • Make an agreement with your child. Many families have found that hammering out online "rules of the road" together goes a long way toward helping kids have constructive experiences on the 'net. One approach is to have a family discussion and drafting an "Internet Use Agreement." Some families print and post the contract by the computer; others elect to have both parents and kids sign the document.
  • Time management. There are online timers that limit the amount of time your children spend online. So, for instance, if you set the time range between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m., your child will not be able to sign on before 3 p.m. or after 9 p.m. This allows parents the flexibility to really tailor their child's online time.
  • Be involved. There's no substitute for parental involvement. Ask your kids to show you their favorite sites and ask them, "Who are your online friends?" It is just as when you ask them where they are going to be after school and whom they are going to be hanging out with.
  • Don't overreact. You want your children to come to you if something happens online that doesn't seem right or makes them uncomfortable. An important part of ensuring that line of communication remains open, is not overreacting if something does go wrong.

    For instance, if your child receives an email from someone trying to sell them something, you might use it as an opportunity to talk about how important it is to understand who you're dealing with online and to never give out personal information. Banning the computer is probably an extreme reaction, and experts say it may prevent your kids from telling you about other incidents for fear you'll take away their online privileges.

  • Move the computer. Even if you know nothing about computers, consider this simple tactic: Move the computer to a central location in the house (the kitchen or the family room). That way, you can keep an eye on the screen.

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