However, the Internet has many lurking dangers as well. Did you know that according to Norton Online Family Report 2010, 33% of children were exposed to violent or nude images? 26% of children had strangers trying to arrange meetings with them? It is therefore vital for parents to help children navigate the Internet properly and safely.
How does a parent start? First of all, the parents should educate themselves on the Internet. The most basic is to be familiar with Internet and Short Message Service (SMS) jargon. For example, noob means “newbie” and LOL means “laughing out loud”. There is an urban legend that a mother thought that LOL meant “Lots of Love” and tagged LOL with the announcement of the death of a grand aunt. Needless to say, that meant lots of embarrassment and explanation!
It is also important that parents identify what is illegal and inappropriate. Some things are clear. For example, pornography is clearly inappropriate though not illegal (this will come to a shock to many people, but this is clearly stated in MDA’s website). What may not be so clear is sharing of copyrighted material on the Internet like music, videos, images, etc. Services like peer-to-peer (P2P) and file hosting sites are prevalent, and everybody seems to be doing it. However, it is illegal to share such copyrighted material without permission from the creator.
Parents need to know the dangers of the Internet. For example, the existence of phishing sites, which are sites set up to steal information like usernames and passwords. Parents also need to be aware of social media sites like Facebook. Not that Facebook is dangerous, but inappropriate privacy settings will allow strangers to look at your children’s photos and even get personal information. These sites are where strangers will contact and try to meet up with your children. So be aware of the dangers and educate your children.
Lastly, parents need to establish house rules and maintain communication channels. A good guide for computer usage would be a maximum of two hours a day, and only after homework has been completed. Parents also need communicate with their children. Explain the rules and state your reasons. Encourage your children to come to you if they see anything uncomfortable.
There is one final thing to be touched on – Parental Control Software. There are many ways of filtering content on the Internet. And Parental Control Software is great, especially for children below the age of 13. But increasingly, parents will find that their children will eventually find ways around these filters. After all, their Internet skills will grow way beyond most parent’s Internet skills. The key for older children is not Parental Control Software, but education. Educate them well on the dangers of the Internet and they will not go astray.