Virtual Summer Safety

Kids are so vulnerable when they're alone online. We need to know about the lurking dangers...

--Leeza Gibbons

Surfing the World Wide Web is, in some ways, like traveling back in time into the American Wild Wild West. The Old West was a rough, unrestrained frontier, until law and order was established with a system of justice for enforcement. Pioneers entering new territories encountered outlaws, assorted critters like snakes and scorpions, along with natural phenomena such as storms and draughts. They needed to plan ahead for their protection and survival.

With extra leisure time during the summer, kids will likely spend more time online, and with wise supervision, that can be a very good thing. It is predicted that there will be over 22 million kids on the web by yearend 2001. These millions of surfers need not encounter bandits or get bitten by marketers this summer. By planning ahead, pro-active parents can help ensure their family's cyber safety. And they can point their surfers toward many fabulous web destinations.

The first step in a solid plan is to assess realistic dangers, and identify the online gulches where outlaws lie in wait. It is important to impress upon your kids that they should not believe everything that they read on the Web, and that people in chat rooms are not necessarily who they claim to be. Careful preparation, discussion, and monitoring will help steer your young ones clear of potential ambush and, at the same time, promote beneficial, worry-free summertime websurfing.

Laws governing offensive Internet activity are somewhat limited because of the issue of legal jurisdiction. For example, without voluntary cooperation, United States Federal officials cannot control questionable material or correspondence originating from outside of the country. It is, however, a Federal offense if a person within the United States' jurisdiction threatens another person online. Many states have laws in place that call for the arrest of cyber-offenders who approach minors with indecent dialogue.

The Internet is generally ruled by standard ethical guidelines that people voluntarily follow. That's why unrestrained web predators can lurk about freely, and be as dangerous, at times, as the Billy The Kids of the Old West. They typically disguise themselves as peers and approach innocent youth while in chat rooms. These assorted creeps initiate conversations with the goal of having fraudulent and potentially improper chats, or securing kids' email addresses for purposes of distributing offensive materials. Oftentimes these sneaks gather personal, conversation-starting information from kids' profiles, or they deduce personal characteristics and interests from their screen names. If kids give their email addresses to these new chat buddies, their addresses can be sold, or added to a database for the purpose of sending unsolicited material.

Virtual Summer Safety Tips

  • Never publish a web profile, especially with personal information or photos.

  • Depending on age, only let kids enter chat rooms accompanied by a chaperone.

  • Take your last name off all personal family email accounts to maintain anonymity.

  • Discuss why it is so critical not to divulge personal facts to strangers. This two-way approach is much more effective than a "don't do" dialogue.

  • If kids insist upon meeting online friends face-to-face, go with them to every meeting.

  • Talk regularly to all family members about what they see and learn online.

  • Share an email account with your child, or have his or her email routed to you first for screening.

  • Pick safe alias names or screen names. Some aliases provide predators with personal interests that can be used to initiate conversations. Safe handles can creatively use colors, animal names or silly phases.

  • Use passwords to protect web accounts, and keep them confidential.

  • Have fun safety talks. For example, read Faux Paw the Techno Cat's letter to kids about web safety, or write an email to him together. He's Utah's first cat and he lives at:

Fun Places for Surfers

  • Check out the wiredkids community for kids under 13 at To join the group, an application signed by a parent is required, along with a letter of good standing from the applicant's school on official stationery. Parents are invited to join the Cyberangels approved site team that researches sites for approval.

  • Visit the homepage and click on the Super Safe Kiddo section in the For Kids 'n Teens drop box.

  • Peruse Disney's Surf Swell Island at

  • Enjoy the Route 6-16 Site Searcher at It's a safe route to take on the Information Highway. Destination sites are pre-selected by Cyber Patrol's professional researchers and are appropriate for kids ages 6 to 16.

Safety Links for Parents

If you had not considered adding cyber-safety to your summer planning, be assured that by doing so, you will effectively be circlin' the wagons around your loved ones to help protect them as they explore the sometimes rugged, yet marvelous web frontier.

Have you ever discussed websurfing safety with your kids?

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Are you aware of laws that protect your kids online?

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Has anyone in your family received inappropriate email?

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Do you regularly discuss web activities with your kids?

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Do your kids' email addresses, or screen names, suggest personal traits?

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Is the computer most often used to surf, in an open location like the den?

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Do you think parental guidance is sufficient to protect children online?

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