When you think of protecting your children online, most likely you automatically think of sexual predators, and you are completely justified in doing so. However, protecting your children online and being a conscious internet parent is about more than simply teaching them not to give out personal information, or setting an easily removed parental block. There is whole wide world of cyberspace out there, and the consequences of what we say and do online are beginning to spill over into what we call ‘real’ life.
Take, for instance, the highly publicized MySpace hoax that ended in a 13-year-old girl committing suicide. This may be a rather extreme example, but what about the girl who posts a modest, appropriate school photo on her Facebook page, receives endless comments from people who have never even met her about how fat she looks, and then starts binging and purging – eventually developing full-blown bulimia?
These are only two examples of the very real, and very serious, kinds of situations in which children and teens have found themselves because of what they were doing online. Armed with this knowledge, we have to ask ourselves what we, as parents, are doing to educate our children about these dangers. What are we doing to monitor their online activities, or to make the internet a safer place for them? Are we being internet parents, or allowing our children access to a virtual world entirely without parental authority?
The first, and most important, thing you can do to protect your children is to talk to them about what they do online. Represent to them the real world consequences of their cyberspace actions, and help them to understand the dangers of internet use. Additionally, find out what kind of sites they are visiting, who they’re talking to, and how they feel about these interactions. Try to help your kids focus on making more real world connections with people, and fewer internet friends.
Set some rules about when and where they are allowed to use the internet, and what sites they are allowed to visit. You might want to specify this information in a verbal or written agreement with your kids.
Unfortunately, though, our kids aren’t always truthful with us. They may also be more tech-savvy than we are, and many parental blocks are easy to uninstall, or get around. The fact of the matter is that many of the sites that children and teens are visiting seem really benign to them, and thus, they figure it isn’t a big deal – a sort of ‘what the parents don’t know won’t hurt them’ mentality – and use the sites anyway.
The only way to prevent this is to invest in a really good internet filter, which is a little different from the more familiar parental block. There are tons of parental blocking programs available, similar to the blocks you can put on your TV, but most of these programs are ineffective and unreliable. Plus, they are very easy to uninstall, and most only require a simple password to gain access to the blocked material.
The best way to monitor what your kids are doing online, and protect them while they are online, is to use a true internet filter, like Clean Internet. This kind of system really works because your internet connection is literally being filtered through a clean server, instead of connecting directly to the site servers. You won’t have to worry about what sites your kids are visiting, because they won’t be able to access anything harmful.
And as parents, we’ve got enough to worry about just making sure our kids grow up happy and healthy, so it’s a huge relief to know that with good communication and a great internet filter, we can be a real world parent and internet parent at the same time, and protect our children online.