Nearly all American children now have access to the Internet. Internet technology affords children access to vast amounts of valuable information and endless sources of entertainment. However, it also exposes children to certain dangers. For example, children may come into contact with demeaning, racist, sexist, violent, hateful or false information. They may also view pornographic web sites, SPAM (unsolicited emails) containing obscene material, file swapping programs with inappropriate and sometimes mislabeled content, and other types of material potentially inappropriate for a child. Most worrisome, children may encounter actual predators that use the Internet to identify and lure victims through chat rooms, instant messaging facilities, and social networking sites.
As a result, some parents may understandably feel the urge to eliminate these risks by prohibiting their children from using the Internet. However, this decision would deprive them of access to an amazing resource for legitimate information and communication. Furthermore, parents might find it impractical to enforce such strict prohibition. For example, many schools require students to take Internet training classes, or use online databases in the classroom. In addition, motivated children and teens could circumvent their parents’ prohibition by getting online in public establishments with Internet access or by using mobile or wireless devices. For these reasons, it is important for parents to strike a balance between the benefits and risks that the Internet poses to children. Parents can achieve such a balance by implementing strategies and protective steps like those discussed below.
Communicating Internet Risks to your Children:
Parents and guardians have a large role in accessing potential risks on the Internet, and communicating those risks to their children. Due to first amendment rights to free speech, various types of information can be posted in the web, some of which a parent may find inappropriate for their child(ren) to view. Therefore, communicating with children about any risks that they can encounter online is the most important and most effective strategy to keep children safe while they surf the web. It is hard for a child to try to avoid potentially inappropriate material if they do not know what to avoid.
To communicate these risks most effectively, a parent must understand the risks. This may sound trivial, but uses for the Internet are growing and changing as web technologies advance. For example, social networking or online gaming present specific and potential risks that may be unfamiliar to a parent that does not use the Internet for these purposes. Therefore, it is important for parents to stay abreast of current technologies in order to best communicate all potential risks to their children. (For further information on the benefits and risks associated with different Internet uses and applications, see National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s Keeping Kids Safer on the Internet: Tips for Parents and Guardians)
Parents may also wish to establish an open dialogue with their children. Open dialogue allows children to feel comfortable to tell a trusted adult if they come across material that makes them feel scared, uncomfortable,