Whether you are computer literate or a certified technophobe who’s never gotten the hang of an Etch-A-Sketch, parental involvement and guidance are critical in ensuring that a youngster’s experience in cyberspace is safe, productive and fun.
Keep the computer in a central location of the home. You’ll be better able to monitor your child’s on-line activities this way than if he’s holed up in his room with the door shut. The fear of being discovered may also deter him from trespassing into regions of the Net that you’ve declared off-limits.
Set limits on the amount of time your child is allowed on-line per day. Adolescents and adults alike can quickly become addicted to the Internet. In either case, this is not healthy, but with teens, the time spent in isolation would be better invested in developing their social skills or engaging in physical activity.
Specify which types of sites your teen may visit and those that are prohibited.
Review the Internet safety guidelines with your teen, then post them near the computer.
Install a Web-filtering program. Parental-control tools are programmed to scan and block addresses containing sexually explicit, obscene, hateful or violent content, as well as sites and features deemed inappropriate for children: unsupervised chat rooms and newsgroups, private messages, Web-page advertisements and so forth.
Most computer stores carry Web-filtering software programs. Popular brands include Surf Watch, Cyber Patrol, Cybersitter, NetGuardian, Net Nanny and Net Shepherd. In addition, Internet providers and commercial services like America Online usually offer their own control features (frequently for free), as do certain Web browsers.
However, with tens of thousands of adult sites and more than forty million sites in all, some unwanted material inevitably slips through. In the Times Square of cyberspace, hundreds of new porn peddlers open shop every week, while existing adult-oriented sites change their addresses periodically in order to outsmart the Web filters. According to a Consumer Reports review of filtering devices, the highest-rated product weeded out only about two-thirds of adult sites, while several blocked none.
What’s more, “teenagers can easily learn to overcome the blocking devices,” says Dr. Marjorie Hogan, former chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Committee on Communications. The filters should be regarded as helpful allies in protecting children from inappropriate material, but they in no way absolve us of our responsibility to keep tabs on where our youngsters venture on-line.
Instruct your teenager on what to do if she is ever harassed or threatened via e-mail or instant messages while on-line. The most effective response is for her to ignore the person, write down identifying information such as a screen name or e-mail address, exit the Net and tell you or another trusted adult what happened.
Next, report the incident immediately to your service provider. Most treat complaints of on-line harassment seriously, especially when the victim is underage. Offenders may have their Internet accounts canceled, and if there is the possibility that a crime was committed, parents can usually depend on the provider to cooperate with authorities.
Make a second call to the CyberTipline of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which forwards all reports to the appropriate law enforcement agencies. The NCMEC works in conjunction with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the U.S. Customs Services and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. While its primary purpose is to assist in locating and recovering missing children, the nonprofit organization also handles leads reporting the on-line enticement of children for sexual acts.