NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, August 2007
Internet Safety Resources for Kids (and Parents)
By Ira Wilsker, APCUG Director;
Columnist, The Examiner, Beaumont, TX; Radio & TV Show Host

(click to email author)

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3032600 - To Catch a Predator
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/15162866 - Full Online Safety Kit

Our kids are our most precious resource, and we need to protect them from many threats. One of the most insidious threats to our children and their safety may be coming through the computer via the internet.

NBC’s Dateline news show has been running a series “To Catch a Predator” where it films adults who come into a child’s home (the child is really an adult decoy) for the alleged purpose of engaging in sexual activity with that child. The contact that initiated this potentially illegal activity was an online conversation between the “child” and an adult. The online chats often start off innocently, and then sometimes become sexually explicit. While no one really knows how many of our children are approached by potential predators while online, some estimates are as many as one in three may be the targets of an online pedophile. We as parents need to be aware of the threats that our children face online, and how to protect our children from those threats.

Dateline has provided a valuable service by providing information on protecting our children on its “To Catch a Predator” website at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3032600. This information is under the heading “Online Safety Kit - What you need to know” and provides a wealth of resources on protecting our kids from online predators. Some of the topics and resources listed in the safety kit include as links: Talk to your kids about online safety, 'predators'; Tips from the Polly Klaas Foundation; Warning signs on kids' risky online behavior; Experts answer frequently asked questions; Share: What do you and your family do to stay safe online?; Why are kids still surfing in the bedroom?; For parents: Tips for kids of different ages; Online safety contracts for parents and kids; What you don't know can hurt your kids; Abduction protection: Be street-smart; Talk to your teens before getting them tech toy gifts. There is also something available which Dateline calls its, “FULL 'ONLINE SAFETY KIT' at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/15162866. This safety kit includes the links above, as well as other valuable online safety resources.

Another excellent resource for child – internet safety is the website at WiredSafety.org, which claims to be “the world's largest Internet safety and help group”. WiredSafety includes direct links to resources for parents, educators, and law enforcement, as well as coverage on women’s issues, and “kids, tweens, and teens”. In the national news recently have been reports of pedophiles utilizing such popular youth resources as Facebook and MySpace to acquire juvenile victims. WiredSafety includes a directory of “Hot Topics” such as: MySpace, Profile, Blog and Social Networks; Cyberbullying; Cyberdating; and Child pornography.

Many parents need help in dealing with a technology that appears to come naturally to our kids, but we as parents are often “behind the curve” when it comes to dealing with those new technologies. Fortunately for us, WiredSafety.org has some excellent and free booklets and brochures online that can help us deal with these safety issues and our children. One such resource is the “Quick tips on social networking safety for parents and teens” available as a PDF file at http://www.wiredsafety.org/resources/pdf/socialnetworktips.pdf. This one page brochure includes some excellent tips for both parents and teens on the proper use of passwords, how to protect online photos from being abused by cyberbullies or sexual predators, protecting online privacy, a strong warning that chat buddies may not really be who they say they are (a common trick used by pedophiles to gather information from potential victims), and other valuable information for teens that we may need to educate our kids about. Directly addressed to the parents are such items as the need to talk to our kids, review their posted online profiles for questionable or sensitive information, and a strong reminder that “You are still the parent!”

Since the weak spot in protecting our kids online is the sometimes blissful ignorance of what our kids are really doing online, WiredSafety offers a free eight page brochure “Parenting Online”, available for viewing or download at http://www.wiredsafety.org/resources/pdf/parentingonline.pdf. This brochure is a very well done informational piece for parents loaded with information and tips for parents on how to educate and warn our kids about the risks that they face both online and outside of the home.

Information provided also covers some of the software and other tools that can be used to protect our kids, as well as links to several websites that are appropriate and safe for our kids. One especially valuable section of this report is, “Your Online Safety ‘Cheatsheet’ - Some Basic Rules for You to Remember as a Parent”. This “Cheatsheet” includes over a dozen common sense tips that a parent should implement to protect our children while online. To codify the rules that the child must follow while using the internet, “Parenting Online” also includes a printable contract that the parent and child can enter into together which will govern internet use. There are 25 rules which must be followed to minimize internet risks, and these are clearly enumerated in the contract. At the bottom of the contract is a place for both the child and parent to sign the contract, where the child promises to abide by the terms of the contract, and the parent promises to help the child follow the rules, and not to overact if the child tells him about bad things that happened in cyberspace. This brochure and its included contract can significantly reduce the child’s risks while using the internet if the information and terms are followed by both parties.

These are but a few of the resources available to help protect our children online. It must be a joint effort between the parents and their children to protect them from the evils that lurk in the deep recesses of the internet.

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