The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) wants parents to be aware that on average out of seven children who surf the Internet regularly, at least one child will encounter a sexual solicitation before he or she has turned eighteen. Does your child know what to do if someone writes something inappropriate in an IM (instant message) or e-mail message? Advise them to sign-off and tell a grown-up immediately.
Children, especially teenagers, need to know that they should never send personal photographs over the Internet, nor give out personal information, including their name, address, and telephone number, school name, or school location. They should use a screen name that bears no resemblance to their real name. Remind them never to meet anyone from online or a chat room in person. Encourage your child to tell you about any threatening, sexually explicit email, instant message, or any online conversation that makes them uncomfortable.
By allowing children unlimited computer access behind closed doors you are putting your child is at risk. The Internet harbors a dark side where pedophiles log on nightly invading children’s bedrooms without having to leave the comfort of their home. Explain to your children how some adults pretend to be a child the same age and gender as the child to gain the child’s trust, when the person is usually an adult grooming the child for an inappropriate sexual encounters.
There are computer programs like Net Nanny and PC Tattletale which will help parents monitor their child’s online activities. These programs restrict children from entering certain types of websites, and block e-mails, instant messages, and chat sessions that contain inappropriate or sexually explicit words. The software is programmable, allowing parents to schedule Internet access for each screen name based on either a certain day or time of the week or a certain amount of time per day. The parental controls monitor who can directly contact your child and who has permission to join their friend list. One of the best features some cyber-safety monitoring programs include is individual monitoring for each family member, allowing one program to work for the entire family.
Finally, parents should show children how the Internet works to locate someone. Start by using the Google search engine, and enter the name of a family member. Try different versions of the name for different results. This method is not successful with very common names like Bill Smith or Jenny Jones. Next try entering your home phone number into Google and see how easy it is to find your home address. If your home address came up, click the Google map icon, and watch turn-by-turn directions to your home address appear. If your child can see how easy it would be for anyone on the Internet to locate them, they may develop respect regarding their personal information and the importance of keeping it private.