To help restrict your children's access to discussions, forums, or bulletin boards that contain inappropriate materials, whether textual or graphic, many of the commercial online services and some private bulletin boards have systems in place for parents to block out parts of the online service they feel are inappropriate for their children. If you are concerned, you should contact your Internet service provider via telephone or E-mail to find out how you can add these restrictions to any accounts that your children can access.
The Internet and some private bulletin boards contain areas designed specifically for adults who wish to post, view, or read sexually explicit material. Most private bulletin board operators who post such material limit access to people who attest that they are adults but, like any other safeguards, be aware that there are always going to be cases where adults fail to enforce them, or children find ways around them.
The best way to ensure that your children are having positive online experiences is to stay in touch with what they are doing. One way to do this is to spend time with your children while they are online. Have them show you what they do and ask them to teach you how to access the services.
While children and teenagers need a certain amount of privacy, they also need parental involvement and supervision in their daily lives. The same general parenting skills that apply to the "real world" also apply while online.
If you have cause for concern about your children's online activities, talk to them. Also seek out the advice and counsel of other computer users in your area and become familiar with literature on these systems. Open communication with your children, utilization of computer resources, and getting online yourself will help you obtain the full benefits of these systems and alert you to any potential problem that may occur with their use.
By taking responsibility for their children's online computer use, parents can greatly minimize any potential risks of being online. Make it a family rule to:
- Never give out identifying information home address, school name, or telephone number in a public message such as in chat rooms or on bulletin boards, and be sure you're dealing with someone that both you and your child know and trust before giving it out via E-mail. Think carefully before revealing any personal information such as age, marital status, or financial information. Consider using a pseudonym or unlisting your child's name if your service allows it.
- Get to know the services your child uses. If you don't know how to log on, get your child to show you how. Find out what types of information the service offers and whether there are ways for parents to block out objectionable material.
- Never allow a child to arrange a face-to-face meeting with another computer user without parental permission. If a meeting is arranged, make sure the first one is in a public place, and be sure to accompany your child.
- Never respond to messages or bulletin board items that are suggestive, obscene, belligerent, threatening, or make you feel uncomfortable. Encourage your children to tell you if they encounter such messages. If you or your child receive a message that is harassing, of a sexual nature, or threatening, forward a copy of the message to your service provider and ask for their assistance.
- Should you become aware of the transmission, use, or viewing of child pornography while online, immediately report this to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children by calling 1-800-843-5678. You should also notify your online service.
- Remember that people online may not be whom they seem to be. Because you can't see or hear the person, it would be easy for someone to misrepresent him- or herself. Thus, someone indicating that "she" is a "12-year-old girl" could in reality be a 40-year old man.
- Set reasonable rules and guidelines for computer use by your children (see Kids Rules for Online Safety as a sample). Discuss these rules and post them near the computer as a reminder. Remember to monitor your child's compliance with these rules, especially when it comes to the amount of time your child spends on the computer. A child or teenager's excessive use of online services or bulletin boards, especially late at night, may be a clue that there is a problem. Remember that personal computers and online services should not be used as electronic babysitters.
- Be sure to make this a family activity. Consider keeping the computer in a family room rather than the child's bedroom. Get to know their "online friends" just as you get to know all of their other friends.