The Internet is a wonderful source of information, and if you have a home computer with Internet access, you want your child to be able to access the right information.
At the same time, you DON'T want your child to view unsuitable material, make purchases using family credit cards, or talk to strangers online.
To provide your children with the fun and educational opportunities the Internet offers while protecting them from possible dangers, you should supervise or, better yet, join their Internet explorations. By putting the computer in a living area instead of in a bedroom, you can monitor your child's Internet use more easily and casually.
Look at Web sites together, talk about their good and bad points, and tell your child how you feel about the advertisements they include. Set limits on the amount of time your child is allowed to spend online each day or week so that internet usage doesn't take the place of homework, playing outdoors, seeing friends, or other worthwhile activities.
Your Home Page:
If you have a young child, pick a home page that primarily has links to other Web sites designed for children. Here are some possible home pages for your child:
www.sikids.com, the Sports Illustrated for Kids Web page, which offers a variety of games and sports tidbits with few advertisements.
www.ajkids.com: Features a search engine that uses plain-English queries.
www.npac.syr.edu/textbook/kidsweb: Created through Syracuse University, this site offers prescreened Web sites grouped into arts, sciences, and miscellaneous categories, as well as monitored chat rooms.
www.yahooligans.com: Search engine for young people modeled on the popular Yahoo. The site also offers a free e-mail service and
monitored chat rooms.
Chat rooms are online forums where children can communicate in real time with many other participants by typing lines of text. In a few well publicized incidents, children have arranged to meet in person someone they have been communicating with online, only to be sexually assaulted by their new "friend." To keep chat rooms safe for your children, instruct the youngster not to use their real names or reveal personal information when online. The younger the child, the more important it is to closely supervise the use of chat rooms.
Email and Spam:
E-mail can present other problems. Your child may receive unsolicited "junk" e-mail urging him/her to buy products (using a credit card) or advertising pornographic Web sites. Contact your Internet service provider if it is not doing an adequate job of filtering out these messages. To limit your child's access to the Internet, you may want to consider purchasing filtering software or signing up for the parental controls offered by your service provider.
Several software programs filter Internet access according to preset criteria. The three best known are: Surf Watch, Net Nanny, and CyberSitter. A free trial before you purchase one of these programs will show you its strengths and limitations.
No program can take the place of parental supervision. It's also a good idea to view from time to time image files (especially files with the suffix .jpg and .gif) and audio/video files (.avi) that your child has downloaded from the Internet. You can also use the browser's "history" toolbar button or menu option to review the Web sites family members have visited during the past few weeks.
Finally, teach your child the following:
1. NEVER give out personal information, such as name (use a screen name), address, age, school name, or friends' names.
2. NEVER use a credit card online without permission.
3. NEVER share passwords, even with friends.
4. NEVER arrange a face-to-face meeting with someone you meet online, unless a parent approves and can go along.
5. NEVER respond to messages that make you feel confused or uncomfortable.
6. NEVER use bad language or send mean messages online.
This list and other hints in the guide are based on a page from the American Academy of Pediatrics Web site. For more helpful information, access the page, The Internet and Your Family, at http://safetynet.aap.org