Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Keeping children safe online

MySpace.com is rightly critized for its unsupervised e-playground, letting children express themselves, thinking only their friends are seeing the profiles and photos. Children don't always understand how very public the web is, and how easily predators can find children to contact.

Yet, many parents realize there is danger in simpler online experiences, such as Instant Maessaging (IM). And, kids love being able to talk to their friends through IM and online chat, at AOL, ICQ, Yahoo etc.

Kids also use codes and abbreviations so you can't always tell what they are typing:

CUL8R (see you later)
POS (parent over shoulder)
MML (meet me later) and
SLAP (sounds like a plan) are just a few.

My personal favorite acronym is BFOO (blinding flash of the obvious), but what goes on with kids and computers isn't always obvious to us. Here are a few tips to keep in mind if your children have a consuming interest in IM and other online chat services.

Block messages from unknown users - so only your own friends can access the pop-up IM chat window in your computer. Otherwise you are opening the door to strangers, and inviting viruses, popups and malicious spyware.

Make sure their online profile is minimal. They should not reveal age, sex, pet names, or the name of their school - just chat about topics like books, TV, celebrities and homework.

Above all, talk to your children, and make sure you know whether their online conversations are appropriate, just as you would if they were talking with friends in the back seat of the car when you're driving them to school.

More online resources for online safety for families:

  • GetNetWise
  • ProtectKids.com
  • Safekids.com
CNet.com recommends a kid-friendly search engine such as KidGrid is a Yahoo-like search engine with categorized links, all of which have been designated safe. Kaboose provides fun stuff for kids and parents alike, from online games to party planning. You can also steer the family to lii.org - a search engine pre-screened by librarians for appropriate content.

Feel free to share this article by highlighting to cut & paste and email to friends.
But, respect copyright by including this too:

Reprinted with permission
All contents copyright, Helen Gallagher, March 14, 2006
author: Computer Ease, ISBN 1589398157