Children and Internet Safety
Jodie Lawton, Children's Advocacy Services of Greater St. Louis, University of Missouri-St. Louis
In a recent report it was estimated that about 17 million children and teens between 12-17 years of age were on the Internet. (See http://www.pewinternet.org/) for more information about teens online.) This represents about 75% of all the young people in the United States. With so many young people online it is important to think about some of the safety issues. Here are some frequently asked questions.
Where are the areas of the Internet that children or teenagers might come across harmful or inappropriate information?
Harmful and inappropriate material can come from just about everywhere on the Internet-- in an e-mail or instant message, through accidentally finding a pornographic website, in chatrooms, bulletin boards, or news groups.
What are some of the dangers for children on the Internet?
First, children may be exposed to inappropriate content including pornography, violence, and language. This may come in the form of pictures or text. Another source of trouble is harassment. Other young people or adults may send offending material, lots of junk mail or just be a nuisance.
There are some more serious problems that can occur. Children may be solicited online in regards to sex. This may occur in seemingly safe situations. For example, your son or daughter might enjoy playing chess online at one of many gaming web sites. In most of these games it is possible to type conversation while playing the game. This conversation may begin innocently and then proceed over a day or weeks into sexual topics.
Even more troubling are attempts of cyber stalking or stalking. This is when other children, teens, adults follow young people online or seek them out at their homes, schools, and so forth.
Are there real dangers on the Internet or is most of what we hear about just media hype?
Unfortunately, there are real dangers on the Internet. There have been several actual instances that received national attention about young people meeting someone they have communicated with online and then, being harmed or abducted. It's important to tell your children the plain truth about dangers online. This is no different than telling them that they can't play in the street or can't stay out all night.
What can parents do to minimize the threat or danger of harassment or sexual solicitation on the Internet?
First, they can locate computers in a common room such as the den, a playroom or the parent's bedroom rather than in a child's bedroom. Children will be less likely to seek out inappropriate information and parents can more easily monitor the website they are visiting. It is also very important to talk with your children about possible dangers on the web. Let them know what dangers are out there and to come to you if they are having a problem. Also, take an interest in what they do when they are online. Who are they chatting with or e-mailing? What are they doing when they are online? What websites are they looking at online?
How effective is filtering or monitoring software
at preventing children from seeing offensive material on
No filtering software is going to be completely reliable, but it has become quite sophisticated and most of the programs have many options so that parents can adjust the filtering to meet their own personal standards or adjust options for children at different ages. There are many different types of filtering software. They each work slightly different. Some software may be better for younger children and some software may be easier for people without much computer knowledge. Parents should review available software and decide what best fits their needs for their family's situation.
Here are three common filtering programs:
Norton Internet Security: http://www.symantec.com/sabu/nis/nis_pe/
How should I punish my child if he or she finds inappropriate or harmful material on the Internet?
In general, it may not help to take away computer privileges if it is something they came across accidentally. It will only encourage them to not tell you if another incident occurs. However, if this is an ongoing problem, it may become necessary to take away computer time or require constant monitoring by an adult. This is something each family must decide based on their family's needs or experiences.
What are some general guidelines parents can teach children about Internet safety?
- Don't give out personal information (Name, Address, Age, School, Birthday, Phone Number, etc.)
- Choose a screen name that doesn't identify any personal information. Examples of bad screen names: saragirl15, tommyboy, girl-in-denver, babygirl12.
- Don't share your password with anyone except your parents. Not even your best friend.
- Do not respond to unwanted, mean, offensive or threatening e-mail, chat room dialogue, or instant messages.
- Don't send pictures of yourself to someone you don't know.
- NEVER agree to meet someone you met on the Internet.
- Remember people online may or may NOT be who they say they are.
- Promise to tell an adult if you ever feel
uncomfortable while online.
Where can I report problems with inappropriate content or unwanted contacts on the Internet?
First, any incident of solicitation or harassment on the Internet should be taken seriously and reported. The email message and any other information should be reported to your Internet Service Provider and the local police. This is not a matter that should be taken lightly.
Here is a list of places to contact regarding many different types of criminal activity on the Internet: http://www.usdoj.gov/criminal/cybercrime/reporting.htm.
You can also submit a report online through the Cybertip line at: http://www.missingkids.com/cybertip/.
Where can I find out more about safety for children on the Internet?
Here are some good sources of additional information on Internet safety for children.
- National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC): http://www.missingkids.com/
- Safe Kids.com: http://www.safekids.com/
- GetNetWise: http://www.getnetwise.org/
What are some warning signs that my children may be involved in something they shouldn't be while on the Internet (i.e. chatting with a stranger, downloading explicit material, etc.)?
- Online late at night
- Excessive use of the Internet
- Closing computer applications when a parent/guardian/adult walks into the room
- Downloaded files with the suffix .jpg, .gif;
.bmp, .tif, .pcx
(These indicate images or pictures)
- Phone calls or mail from stranger
Last Updated 05/05/2009