Teaching our children online safety is every bit as important these days as teaching them the basics of “real world” physical security. The old adages of “don’t talk to strangers” and other similar sayings now have their own electronic counterparts, and you should be aware of all of the possibilities to ensure the safety of your kids when they go on the internet. Here are the major hazards of children going online, along with a few bits of advice on how to deal with them.
Hazardous Programs/Software Online – viruses, spyware, worms, and trojans are some of the major threatening software that can be encountered online. Having security programs that detect and block incoming threats isn’t always enough. Since these programs can ride piggyback disguised as or attached to harmless looking email, make sure that your children never accept email from any sources they don’t know, and even to reject ones with suspicious sounding names even from sources that they DO trust, as their friends’ computers might have gotten infected and the emails sent out automatically by the viruses. On a related note, teach your kids the importance of maintaining a firewall and anti-virus shield. Show them how to operate them, and tell them NEVER to turn it off just because the firewall may be doing something “inconvenient” like blocking a game site.
Verbal Abuse Online – whether in chat rooms, forums, clubs, and online gaming, there are enough vicious, small-minded, stupid, and harmful people that might heap verbal abuse on your children, swearing at them or making sexual advances on them, or even striking at their religious or ethnic backgrounds. Teach your children that they do NOT have to put up with this online any more than they have to in real life. They should know how to get recordings or screenshots of the instances and take them to you. You can then ensure your child’s safety by contacting the moderator of the forum, game, site, etc. in question and having them ban the offending parties. If the abuse is excessive, you can even opt for taking legal action against the person or people involved, just as you would push a slander and abuse charge if they did it on the street. The internet’s advantage in such cases is that screenshots and official records from the sites can be used as hard evidence, unlike real-life verbal abuse cases where the evidence is usually gleaned from reliable witnesses.
Phishing – another danger online is the crime of phishing. This involves people contacting you or your children claiming to be something harmless like a bill collector, law enforcer, government employee, salesman, etc and attempting to get you or your children to give them sensitive information over the internet. This usually involves things like credit card numbers, home phone, and address, social security numbers, etc. As in real life, the best defense against this is to teach your children to never divulge any information to someone they don’t personally know, and to avoid giving out extra-sensitive information (credit card!) to anyone, even those they DO know. One type of software that helps defend against these cases is the supervisor monitoring program. These packages are usually meant for office use to monitor the times a user logged into a computer, what sites they visited, which programs were run, what was downloaded and uploaded, and even what was typed. While this will not directly avoid phishing in case your kids DO give out information inadvertently, it WILL at least allow you to find out after the fact and to take appropriate legal measures using that hard evidence against the parties involved.
Stuff You Don’t Want Them Seeing – lastly, there are, sadly, many sites out there that we don’t want our kids seeing. Aside from the obvious pornographic sites there are also ones involving graphic displays of extremes of violence or have teachings and ideologies we’d rather not have our kids exposed to. To prevent this, parental lock programs and timers can be used to limit which sites your children can visit and how long they can stay on the internet. These types of software mesh perfectly with the supervisor monitoring program (mentioned in Phishing, above) to allow you to know what your children are doing online when they think you’re not looking.