You may think your kids are safe playing online games or visiting with their friends on social networking sites. But the anonymity of the Internet masks scams, identity thieves, and cyber crooks. They could be lurking anywhere. How can you keep your kids and their information safe as they go online?
Lay Down the Law
What you don’t want to do is look the other way. You don’t have to panic, but you do need to step in and establish some rules for Internet use in your home. Your family should understand that what they do online really does matter.
Make a rule to use computers and Internet devices only in open areas where family members can keep an eye on each other. You don’t have to stare over their shoulders every time they go online, but you should be able to easily see what they are doing. Check on them from time to time. Knowing what they are doing online is your single most valuable weapon against predators. Steer your children toward better choices if you need to. Filters and monitoring software, although they don’t solve all problems, can go a long way toward keeping your children away from places on the Internet where they shouldn’t be.
Make sure you have the passwords to all your children’s accounts so you can drop in occasionally to make sure everything is on the up and up. What’s more, have your children use a different password for every account and if at all possible, have them change them quarterly. If someone finds out your daughter’s birthday, adding a, b,c,d,e and so on to the end won’t take long until he’s cracked her account. New and distinct passwords frequently. If they need to keep a record, Mom or Dad can be in charge of keeping that info safe, perhaps in a special place.
Dealing with Downloads
Another ground rule for younger children should be to never download anything or open any attachments without your permission. Viruses can easily pop up in these downloads, as can pornographic material and other links you wouldn’t want your child to open. Even many adults fall prey to this tactic. Sometimes these links can appear to come from your own friends. If you click on one, you may discover too late that your friend’s account was hacked and is now distributing a virus. The short lesson here is that predators and cyber crooks are becoming harder to spot. Sources that look legitimate may not be.
Teach your children to never give out personal information online. Help them to understand that they can’t always tell who people are online, even if they seem nice. Sometimes predators pose as other children and strike up a friendship in order to win a child’s trust. When the child spills important personal information to his or her new “friend,” such as an address or a school, the predator may come looking for the child.
It's not just young children who can be lured into befriending predators. Teenagers are at an emotionally vulnerable time in their lives, and when an online friend seems to truly care about them, they may go to great lengths to strengthen that relationship. One story featured on Oprah Winfrey's show centers around Kristin, who at age 15 became involved online with a 27-year-old man who said he loved her. She eventually went to meet him late at night and he attacked her. She later took her own life. Unfortunately, Kristin's story is far from unique.
Recognize that even though your children may intellectually understand the rules, their emotions can cloud their judgment. They may think they have everything under control. They may think they know their online friends. Make sure your teens understand what can happen as a result of their choices. Don't hide these consequences from them.
Be Smart and Stay Safe
When you educate yourself about techniques of cyber crooks and Internet predators, you arm yourself with knowledge. Keep yourself informed, and use that knowledge to guide and protect your family. By doing that, you’ll be giving your family countless wonderful experiences no one can take away from them.
John Deschamp is a father of three and a network administrator who blogs for highspeedinternet.net, a site he often recommends to those looking to learn more about how cable internet works.