As a parent it is your job, your responsibility, to look after the children you have brought into this world.
Most parents take that responsibility seriously but external factors seem to make their job harder by the day.
A world that once seemed small is now truly global as your kids discover the wonders of communicating via the internet.
Being young, your children often don’t understand the dangers that the world wide web can sometimes pose, if they even spot them at all.
Its even more unfortunate that many parents are oblivious to the risks that can sometimes be posed by the internet too.
Its certainly very true that the internet is a valuable tool for children and adults alike.
Communication has become easier and cheaper, businesses more profitable and new friends can be discovered.
Perhaps the most important benefit of having internet access is more educational in nature though.
If you want to know anything about anything then someone, somewhere, will almost certainly have written something about it on the internet.
Indeed, internet use is on the increase in the classroom as children gather more and more information from web sites than they do from handouts from their teachers.
Computers with internet connectivity have become so commonplace that children such as mine are even given homework that involves researching topics on the web.
This has led to our children growing up in a society where internet use is so common that they would probably see it as a necessary part of their lives rather than a luxury.
Envelopes, pens and stamps are for a passing generation.
This one types and clicks ‘send mail’.
Libraries are no longer places you visit together, they’re websites that may not check your kid’s ages before letting them read those books on the higher shelves.
Your children live in this world now and its a bigger world than the one we were born into.
If you don’t understand it then how can you protect them the dangers it poses?
TEACH YOURSELF FIRST
The first piece of advice I would give to any parent, before they discuss the dangers of the internet with their children, is to get online themselves.
You need to understand how email works.
You need to know a little about spyware, viruses, Trojans and all the other cyber threats out there.
You need to visit forums, chat rooms and social networking sites so that you have an understanding of the types of places your children will be visiting.
With a little such knowledge you’ll come across much more authoritatively when you start setting down rules and guidelines.
PROTECT YOUR KIDS
Children, especially younger ones, need guidance.
They need it from YOU.
You need to sit down with your kids and have a frank discussion about internet use.
You need to ensure that your children understand what you are saying and that they must follow your guidelines to the limit.
If they don’t then you need to be firm and may have to disconnect them from the net for a while to drive your point home.
Remember, children are fast learners and they hate to be deprived of anything.
When setting the rules that you wish your kids to follow try and be thorough.
Don’t just set time limits, make it clear what sort of sites they can and cannot visit too.
Something I did with my children when they were younger was to write the rules in large type onto a piece of paper.
I then framed this and hung it on the wall in the middle of their various computers so that they were constantly reminded of what we had discussed.
Knowing my kids to be quite typical I knew they wouldn’t make a point of reading it themselves at first so every few days we would sit down and go through it together until they got to the point where they could tell me everything that was written without having to stop to think.
Another thing I did was to place my kid’s computers around the living room so that they couldn’t use them without me being close by.
Only recently have I let my eldest move his PC into his bedroom and he is already fifteen.
At his age I felt he probably needed a little privacy but at an earlier age I don’t think that is advisable.
If you have a younger child who says they need to use their computer in privacy then you really do need to find out why.
Whilst we are on the subject of privacy, now is a good time to teach your kids how to protect their identities when they are online.
Take the time to teach them not to give out their real names, ages, address or phone number.
Do it now.
If they give the wrong details to the wrong person then they may end up suffering a fate far, far worse than identity theft.
Teach them not to give out their real name, address, phone number, age, or any other identifying information.
If you are concerned that they may not do as asked then add in another layer of security with a monitoring program such as the quite excellent Net Nanny.
COMMUNICATION IS KEY
Everybody has their own style of parenting.
Personally, I do not think it is fair to lecture to kids without offering some explanations as to why you feel it is a necessity.
So, if you are going to insist that your children follow certain rules then good communication is vital.
After setting down your guidelines try to give your children a certain level of understanding to go with it.
Depending upon their ages you may not wish to go into too much detail but you should let your kids know that people arn’t always who they say they are and not everybody can be trusted.
You should also explain why keeping their personal details to themselves is important both now and when they grow up.
For the most part you probably wouldn’t want your young children to be joining chat rooms or engaging in instant messenger conversations.
If, however, there is a need for it then explain to them how they will need both your permission and help when signing up for anything on the web
Younger children should not be using email, instant messengers or visiting chat rooms, but they will occasionally need to fill out registration forms for age appropriate websites.
It is vital that they learn to get your permission, and your assistance, before they start typing any of their information into web based forms.
Children are taught, both at school and by their peers, to use the internet for many of the tasks you or I would have used alternative means for in the past, from communicating to researching different topics.
Tap into that and make your kids inquisitive so that they don’t necessarily believe everything they see or hear.
They can then use that knowledge to aid their own safety when they chat to other people online.
I’d always advocate monitoring younger children but as they approach their teenage years you will probably have to trust them more as they begin the transition into adulthood.
No teenager wants to be constantly monitored and nor should they be.
Whilst they still need to be loved and protected they do need to be allowed to start experiencing the world on their own.
Hopefully you have already taught them about internet safety when they were younger and now you need to take a step back and hope that they have taken it all in.
As before, give them rules and guidelines but do not stand over their shoulders watching everything that they do.
Communicate the new types of dangers they may potentially face from instant messengers and within chat rooms and also let them know that you are always there should they ever find themselves in an uncomfortable position.
Whilst you then take a step back you should also let your kids know that there will still be consequences if your rules are ever broken.
Don’t be afraid to block access to the internet if they go beyond your boundaries.
Be open with them and tell them that trust is a two way street and if they break it then they will have a hard job earning it back again.
Children of all ages are going to want their computers in their bedrooms as I mentioned before.
All of my kids have asked me to put their upstairs and only just recently have I allowed my eldest to do so.
With my younger ones I keep quite a strong eye on what they are doing, physically watching their screens at times to ensure they are behaving responsibly and not doing anything I’ve told them not to do.
Now that my 15 year old has his PC in his bedroom he has a lot more privacy but I haven’t abdicated my responsibilities either.
I sat him down and spoke to him before moving his computer and we agreed upon some simple rules, namely that I would respect his privacy as long as he kept me informed.
By that I mean he gives me a summary of what he has been up to that day, what sort of sites he has visited and who he has spoken to.
I don’t ask for all the details but I do check his computer occasionally, something he has agreed I can do.
That way I can make sure that he is telling the truth and I can also randomly check his instant messenger chat logs too.
I do this in front of him so he knows I’m looking out for his safety and not just snooping on him which is something all teenagers worry about!
EXPLAIN THE DANGERS
With my children I was, and still am, as open with them as I feel their age level permits.
There is only so much you would want to tell a 5 year old about online predators after all.
As they have grown older, and become more experienced on the net, I have steadily given them more information.
The more they know the better equipped they will be to deal with any potential issues themselves.
You do not, however, want to scare them any more than is necessary and you definitely do not want to be getting graphic when describing the dangers.
I know that the experience has sometimes made me feel uncomfortable but how can I impress the importance of what I am saying without giving my children a glimpse of the true nature of certain dark corners of the internet?
CHAT ROOMS, SOCIAL NETWORKS AND MESSAGE BOARDS
I mentioned earlier that chat rooms, social networks and chat rooms are something that kids like to become involved with, especially the older ones.
Before they discover these outlets you will probably find it fairly simple to keep up with who they are socialising with online.
If they are following your guidelines then their contact list will be fairly limited and confined to email.
Chat rooms and other areas where they can meet new people online will quickly change that though.
They could meet hundreds, even thousands of new people each week.
Most will just pass by but some will be added to their contact lists.
The majority of these new friends will be genuine kids, just like your child.
Some, however, will not be.
Message boards and forums are reasonably safe, especially where they are patrolled by moderators who can delete offensive comments and kick abusive users.
Social networks and chat rooms, however, offer far more freedom to predators.
Whilst the number of such predators on such sites may be low it only takes one and they are definitely on the lookout for children.
It is for that reason that you must once again set guidelines before allowing your kids to use such services.
Let your children know that they can only use message boards that have moderators.
If the site offers the ability to filter bad language then they have to have that filter switched on, otherwise you should consider preventing them from using that site in the first place.
I would advise not letting your children onto chat rooms at all.
It is far too easy for a predator to lie about their identity and age and then groom kids whilst remaining anonymous.
If you do allow your child onto chat rooms then check the profile they have created for themselves and make sure there is nothing in there that can give away their true name, age or location.
It would also be advisable to check what they are using the chat room for and who they are talking to on a regular basis so that you can detect any unwanted attention that they may be receiving.
When your kids are older and you allow them to move their computers away from your direct view then you are giving up a certain degree of control.
Whilst I think this is an important part of their development you may feel that you would like to keep an eye on them all the same, perhaps without them being aware of that fact.
If so then software such as Win-Spy Pro is what you will need as it affords the opportunity to remotely view another computer.
This includes what is viewed on their screen as well as what they type.
The program cannot be deleted or stopped by your kids and they will almost certainly be unaware if it is installed on their system.
You can even use the program to control a nearby webcam to see exactly what your child is doing!
Spying isn’t cool but sometimes its necessary to ensure the safety of those we love.
Kids all around the world are remarkably alike.
Wherever you live I’d bet that yours are not unlike mine because they all want that forbidden fruit.
You can set down all the rules and guidelines you like.
You can get their agreement on all of them.
One thing is certain though – no child wants to miss out on what they have been told they cannot have.
You should never get to the point where you don’t monitor your kid’s online activity.
As they get older they become more responsible but also start visiting site that could hide greater risks to them.
Never assume your kids are as good as you think they are – its your job as a parent to ensure their safety.
Do not fail.