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As The Online World Changes, So Do The Rules For Keeping Kids Safe

Published: January, 2005

Our children’s use of the Internet and online services becomes more a part of their daily routine each day. But, the rules continue to change, and there is no one “how to” book.

What’s changing about the way kids use online services?

IM has replaced email.

Most kids ages 10 to 18 can count the number of emails they receive and send each day on one hand. That’s a big change from just a few years ago when they emailed constantly. IM has replaced email and SMS messaging from phones is playing quick catch up. Kids today say they IM for, on average, an hour each day and that they typically have more than 25 buddies on their IM list.

Most know the basic rules of Internet safety.

Almost every child I’ve included in surveys knows the basic rules about not giving out their name or address in cyberspace. The things they wrestle with are the more nuanced things like whether or a not a person is trying to scam them, is really a “friend of a friend” and other “reputation” tests. These are the same things that baffle their parents.

They have different ideas about privacy and digital downloading.

The children I survey find it hard not to download free and illegal music. They don’t have much money and the music is plentiful, so they share and share their favorite songs. And they don’t mind playing a game sponsored by McDonald’s or Nabisco on Neopets, either. Kid-centric advertising is something they’ve grown up with .

A new generation of electronics devices including Internet enabled phones, cameras and handheld devices will make it easier than ever to have internet relationships take place without the supervision of a parent. Unless parents master the new technology, it will more difficult them to exert any direct control to ensure that their child is using the Internet in a responsible way.

Where do Kids Go Wrong?

1. Visiting inappropriate sites — These are not only pornographic sites (which are very graphic and deviant), but also include sites that are very violent or explain how to make bombs for example.

2. Use of communications sites — Communicating is the heartbeat of kids’ online activities and it can include: email, IM, text messaging, SMS messaging and even BLOGS. Blogs are online destinations where teenagers can post thoughts fashioned like a series of daily diary entries.

A new variation on the Blog theme is called Camera Girls, where young girls use camera and cell phones to take provocative photos of themselves and post them over IM and email. These can be copied and transmitted quickly.

3. Peer to Peer Networking — using sites like KaZaa and other free download sites allows outsiders to have complete access to your computer, including private files. It also opens your computer up to viruses, pornography, identity theft and now there are legal ramifications for violating copyright. Parents should think about alternatives like a digital entertainment allowance on legal sites like iTunes.

Spam and Spim — Pornographic advertising to kids has slowed down in the last few months, but SPAM messaging is on the rise. For a majority of people, 33% of the messages they receive are unsolicited Spim is the IM version of SPAM. Both Spim and Spam occur when software programs scour the internet for potential email addressed or when lists that include your email or IM name get sold.

What Can Parents Do?

Consider using an acceptable use policy. (See for an example). Kids can’t guess what you’re thinking the right Internet behavior should be; they need it spelled out very clearly. Acceptable use policies are signed agreements between you and your child that outline what you consider unacceptable behavior and the consequences of that behavior. These are used frequently in schools and a contract between student and administration.

When Kids Surf The Web

Use parental controls such as or use the built-in controls that are available from Internet Service Providers like AOL, MSN and Earthlink. This is especially important for kids under age ten; you can ease up on the controls as they get older.

Use your search engine’s filter, too. Tools like Google have filters to screen out inappropriate sites and image.

Keep your computer in a relatively public space in your home or check-in often if your child’s computer is in his or her bedroom

Learn about media literacy to help your children identify a reliable website from an unreliable one.

Search your child’s computer history files if you are at all concerned about potential abuse. It’s always better to tell them ahead of time that you reserve the right to do this if you suspect trouble. They’ll appreciate the honesty and you won’t feel like a sneak.

Teach your children never share personal information; that includes information about what team they’re on or who their friends are as well as name, address and phone number. (55% of kids have been asked for personal information on-line.)

When Kids are Using IM

Revive your child’s buddy lists. Make sure you know and approve of all contacts and their screen names.

Don’t let your kids create a personal profile on AOL or any other service. It opens them up to more SPAM and intrusion.

Turn IM OFF during homework hours. They don’t multitask as well as they think they do.

Encourage them not to get overly specific in posting “away” messages. Sometimes they divulge too much about their habits and whereabouts.
When Kids Use Chat Rooms

They should leave a chat room if the conversation turns “hot” or uncomfortable.

They should not use revealing SCREEN names, such as “nancyr” or provocative ones like CUTIEPIE or SEXXXXy.

Stick to monitored chat rooms that are supervised by adults and have a penalty for inappropriate behavior.

When Kids Use Email

Teach them not to open attachments from someone they don’t know

Tell them not to reply SPAM or mail that invites them to join since doing that often identifies you as a “live” address to the spammer.

When Kids Use Peer to Peer Networks

Remind them that swapping music and movie sites open their computers up to all kinds of viruses and possibly identity theft. It’s like leaving the back door of your house open for intruders.

Create some sort of digital allowance to allow them to download legal entertainment from sites like, or to name a few.

Your Basic Internet Survival Kit

Your Interent Safety Kit, installed on your computer should include: an AntiVirus program, a SpamBlocker, and a Personal Firewall Personal Fire Walls screen those who try and access your computer without permission.

Other options to consider are parental control software and pop up ad blockers.