McCall's Magazine Feature Article
Pornographers and other creeps go online to woo young victims. Protect your kids with these smart ideas from activist Donna Rice Hughes.
Most parents wouldn't dream of sending their child alone into a challenging new situation - the first day of kindergarten, a first trip to the corner store, day one behind the wheel of a car - without explaining what to expect and setting rules. Nor would a loving mother drop her kid off in Times Square to hang out by himself for a few hours. Yet all across America, moms and dads are so unaware of the dangers that lurk on the Internet - potential contact with pornographers and predators who prey on the young - that they provide no guidance at all. In fact, many parents don't realize how corrupt some Web content is; there are sites that show explicit sex acts with animals and children, as well as the rape, torture and mutilation of women. Kids can easily - and innocently - stumble upon these images (many of which are free), as well as incorrect sex information, hate speech and other inappropriate material.
Think that your child is safe if you don't have Internet access at home? Don't be fooled. Kids will gain access to cyberspace at school, the library or a friend's home. The Internet has become the most popular playground for children of the 90's. But in this recreation area, any adult can mingle freely and anonymously with unsupervised minors.
How can you keep everything that is wonderful about this new technology - the ability to view soil on Mars up close, for example, or tour the Library of Congress, get homework help from experts, chat with faraway relatives - and still screen out the bad elements?
Follow these 12 tips.
Learn Internet basics so everyone in your family can speak the same language. Otherwise, it may be difficult to safeguard your kid online and set up rules. If you have no computer experience, of course, you'll feel intimidated about going online. Take a deep breath - surfing the Net is easier than you might think! In fact, this is a perfect opportunity for your child to teach you something. Almost every kid today has computer lessons in school. And many libraries and community centers offer free help.
Spend time online alongside your child.
Put the computer in a central area of your home, such as the family room. It's easier to monitor your child's activities if the computer isn't behind a closed door. And limit online time just as you should curtail a child's video-game and TV use. Being glued to a machine for long periods gets in the way of important face-to-face interaction with family and friends.
Don't let your child give out personal information.
Always have open arms - and listening ears.
Stay on top of your child's e-mail habits.
Regularly ask about your child's online friends and activities.
Supervise your child's chat-room activity.
Forbid your kid from meeting anyone he's talked to online unless you're present. Explain that in cyberspace, some bad adults can fool kids by pretending to be children too, and that once a "friendship" is formed and personal information obtained, these strangers may attempt to set up real-life encounters.
Install protective software.
Be attuned to negative changes in your child's behavior.
Establish away-from-home Internet rules, too.
© 2001 by Donna Rice Hughes. Request permission if you wish to reprint or post.