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Child Online Safety

So, what's the problem?

Although public attention and legislation are catching up, the Internet can still be a wild place.  Children using the Internet face a variety of problems, including:

Children can be cruel to each other on the playground, and the Internet is no different.  In fact, the absence of immediate body language feedback and the false sense of anonymity that the Internet conveys can suppress the kind of cues that might cause a bully to think twice.

Stranger danger
Child predators use the internet to groom victims.  Enough said.

Sometimes, kids can be their own worst enemy.  Some employers (and some colleges!) do background checks on applicants, including searching social media.  Something that seems harmless and silly when it's posted can become embarrassing later on.  Also, not all information is easy to purge once it has gone public.  Finally, kids can often be convinced to share passwords with friends.  This is a bad idea, no matter how close they are with their BFFs.

Some folks (teens especially, it seems) raise strong arguments about "information freedom" and treat music and movie piracy as civil disobedience.  But copyright laws are stringently enforced, whether one agrees with them or not.  If you don't want your child to be the test case -- sometimes with tens of thousands of dollars in fines at stake -- then this is a talk you should be having with your kid.  And while you're having that talk, you might inquire about how (or even if) the "new economic model" pays the artists for making their art.

Adult content
It's out there, and it cannot be completely suppressed.

Identity Theft
A Social Security Number with no history can be very valuable to people whose own credit is damaged, or who need to hide their identity from the government.  Identity thieves have opened credit card and bank accounts, taken loans, and even rented apartments with identity information stolen from minors.

Although we want our kids to be cyber-savvy, they need to learn in a safe environment.

Right!  So what can parents do?

This section is adapted from material from SANS Institute's Securing the Human initiative.

In general, the most important part of online safety (as it also is in real-world safety) is communication!  Your child should be able to come to you with questions under any circumstances.  Bullies and predators will put pressure on a victim to not tattle, convincing a child that they will somehow get into trouble if they do.  Your child needs to know that it is always OK to come to you, regardless of what others tell them.

Your child should use a dedicated computer in a highly visible, high-traffic area of your home.  The high visibility will ease the temptation to test the rules.  Making sure your children use a dedicated computer, separate from the one you would use for telecommuting or online bank access, will prevent any mistakes on their part (leading to virus infection, for example) from affecting your work or finances.

Post a list of rules next to the child's computer.  These rules would include when the computer may be used and for how long; who they should talk to if they have problems with the computer or with people they're interacting with across the web; and a list of do's and don'ts.  The source website linked above has a sample on the second page of their parent handout document.

Remain aware of what web sites your child visits, what sorts of material they view and what they post about themselves online.  Several software resources are available that will not only report this kind of information, but also block web sites that can be harmful. Because blocking is never 100% effective, you should make sure to review the web monitor / blocker logs from time to time.

Social Media figures into a lot of questions at the live presentations.  I don't think there is a way to keep a complete list of sites that you can check against.  The closest thing to such a list is at Wikipedia, and even they don't claim to be comprehensive.  Don't get drawn into the game of whac-a-mole!  I think managing the child is going to be easier than managing the Internet.  Look over the monitoring / filtering resources; pick one and get used to reading the reports on a regular basis.  And keep the lines of communication open!
Wikipedia on social media sites

In case of emergency

If you have found that your child is already in imminent danger, call the appropriate authorities. 

For bullying, this is likely the school administration or the leadership of whatever organization or activity brought your child in contact with the bully.  Twitter and Facebook have contact pages where these things can be reported.

If you have reason to suspect a child predator is grooming your child for an in-person meeting, immediately notify your local police.  They're in the business of protecting the public and have experts who can preserve whatever evidence might be on your child's computer.

Resources for filtering and monitoring

For Smart phones & tablets:

  • ParentKit - govern your kid's Apple portable device.  Set schedules on which apps can be used when; get usage reports.
  • Ignore No More - Not getting through when you call your child?  Cause the phone to be unable to dial any number except yours.

Resources for more information

The Internet is full of cyber safety resources, and sometimes it's hard not to get overwhelmed!  Here is a short list of links that may be useful; searching will reveal many, many others.

Some of these notes, marked with a blue asterisk*, refer to DTI's presentation for 4th graders, offered each year in October.  If you're a fourth-grade teacher in a school in Delaware, sign up to get a DTI volunteer to present at your school.

First up:  the State of Delaware's Cyber Security page: (redirects to a deeper link). Scroll down and look in the center column for Parents links and Kids links.

Teaching Your Teen How To Be A Cyber-Smart Citizen from Identity protection company CSID.

*Tips for Teens from Disney. The link at the end of the "Phineas and Ferb" cartoon was broken; this was the closest thing that Disney had.

National Cable Telecommunications outreach site for parents.

 * - the "youth" link is where Faux Paw the Techno Cat comes from!

*The video about Alex and Big Mike the Bully came from Net Safe Utah, which has many other educational videos of that kind.

OnGuard Online provides more detail about holding web site owners responsible for meeting their own privacy policies with respect to minors, as well as compliance with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.

Child Identity Theft explained, with detailed preventive measures, at the Federal Trade Commission website, and at TransUnion's web site.

Project Know, an online resource for addiction treatment, has a section on recognizing and coping with internet addiction in children.

For parents, a detailed, thorough and understandable overview of the threats and challenges presented by smartphones, and what you can do to stay on top of them, from

YourSphere Parents' Internet Safety site with how-to's and alerts on current threats.  Founder / President / COO Mary Kay Hoal is very much against minors using FaceBook, and documents some compelling reasons for taking that stand. Note that YourSphere is (among other things) a "social network for youth".  Although this implies some competitive interest, it does not seem to reduce the quality of the information found here.

AMS Counseling Resources LiveBinders site with links to articles giving parents the heads up on many different social media web sites.  I had not heard of many of these before.  I don't like how LiveBinders arranges links, but the concentration of research was good enough to share here.