Now for the good news: Parents have more choices and tools than ever before to help keep their families safe online. They can stock a technology toolbox, full of filtering, blocking, monitoring and tracking software. They can use the parental controls included with their ISP or online service and can use only kid-friendly search engines and portals to limit children’s exposure to inappropriate sites.
Are Your Kids Safe
“I’m all in favor of a kid’s invasion of privacy because of the danger potential here,” says child development professor Polland. “You cannot take the chance. Because kids feel so safe and so bright and so confident about how to beat the system, they are in danger.”
Some parents share an online account and password with their child to keep tabs on their children’s e-mails with online friends. Parents can even track chats and instant messages in real time, even when they are away from home. There are also non-tech options such as creating a Family Internet Use Contract (www.safekids.com/contract.htm ) Which options you use depends on your child and your own parenting style.
But while technology has provided parents with numerous options, high-tech safety tools should be only a piece of the solution – not the whole pie. Indeed, experts repeatedly caution against relying solely on high-tech babysitters to keep kids safe online. “Technology is not a replacement for good parenting,” says America Online chairman Steve Case.
O’Connell-Jay, who now educates parents, teachers and police on the subject of Internet safety, recommends that parents get involved in their children’s Internet life – even ask their kids for lessons if they’re computer illiterate. In her sister’s case, “Nobody knew, because nobody was computer literate,” she says.
The key to keeping kids safe on the Internet today is parents who recognize the possible dangers, understand the technology, and take the time to be involved in their child’s online activities.
“Parents who understand the Internet and monitor the time that a child spends online offer the best protection,” says Richard Sherman, Ph.D, a psychologist specializing in children and Internet issues. “Kids need appropriate monitoring by parents at home to prevent inappropriate behavior online."
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Related reading: Cyber Brats: Protect your kids from bullies who taunt their peers with the click of a mouse.
Natalie Walker Whitlock is the author of A Parent’s Guide to the Internet (Parent’s Guide Press, 2003). Marilyn Martinez is the associate editor of