Interactive Case Studies
What Parents Need to Know
Internet Smarts: Safeguarding Your Children in a Digital World
A booklet with answers to common questions about safe Internet use.
Q1: My kids go from computer to cell phone to iPod to gaming all day. Should I be worried?
A: These digital gadgets are an integral part of your children's world and being "online" these days surfing the Web, text messaging, twittering or interactive gaming – are just part of growing up. It's estimated that teens spend over two hours a day online. Chances are most parents don't know what is going on during this time.
Using and communicating with digital devices may have its dangers, but don't get scared
into thinking that digital devices and communication should be off-limits for your children. Today they are vital tools for interacting, learning and getting ready for the job market. But just like teaching your children how to be safe and courteous in the larger world, you need to lead them to safe practices and good manners in the digital world.
So what are the biggest dangers?
- Child predators who pose as teens or preteens.
- Harassment from cyberbullies - kids that bully others online.
- Exposure to inappropriate photos, video, and text.
- Excessive involvement in, and time spent on digital communication.
- Viruses, worms, bots.
- Exposure to misinformation, phishing and other scams.
Q2: What are the risks of giving out personal information?
A: Your kids probably don't see any danger in posting pictures, etc. of themselves, their friends and even people they don’t like online. Even older teens are surprisingly naive when it comes to posting and sending things to “close“ friends they've met ONLY in cyberspace. They chat about when and where they are going, their teams, where they spend money, and even about problems with their parents and friends. They give out friends' last names and cell phone numbers without a second thought. Information such as this helps child predators locate your children, gives cyberbullies fodder for their nastiness and could even help identity thieves tangle up your finances.
Because it’s sometimes hard to remember what “personal” information is, it’s important that your family rules specify what information may not be posted online, e-mailed or text messaged, or mentioned in a chat or IM or tweet. —And make sure your children aren't storing passwords or any other private information on smart phones or other devices that can be borrowed, lost, or stolen. There are sample rules, as well as software programs that can block your children from divulging personal information in the Internet Smarts section of www.powertolearn.com.
It’s also important to talk to your kids about “phishing,” i.e., e-mails or online surveys that are fishing for personal information. These often come in the form of official looking e-mails or as part of registration to use certain online sites. They ask for credit card numbers, passwords, or usernames in the guise of giving access, clearing up problems with accounts or get rich schemes. It is important that children (and adults!) learn never to respond to these kinds of e-mails or surveys and never to click on the URL (Web address) embedded in such e-mails, as it could lead to a false or illegal collection site.
Q3: What's the story with downloading music, movies, and games?
A: Confused about the legalities of downloading? You're not alone. Bottom line, it's illegal for your children to use someone else's creations (like music, games, and video) unless (1) they've paid for them, (2) they have permission, (3) they are EXPLICITLY free, or (4) they’re covered by the “Fair Use” exemption to copyright law. Fair Use allows the use of small portions of copyrighted products especially for educational projects. You'll find information on Fair Use in the Interactive Case Studies section of Internet Smarts at www.powertolearn.com.
Even if your kids insist that, "everyone else is doing it," don't let them violate the law. Get caught and they (and you) can face large fines, loss of Internet service through your provider, and even a criminal record.
Digital Rights Management – or who owns the rights to what – is getting more complicated by the day. A good rule of thumb is to not download anything unless it clearly says it is free or that you pay a fee for it and then don’t share it. While the chance of getting sued or losing service are slim, it is not worth the risk. No matter what, you want to teach your children to do what is right.
Q4: Can people look at what's on my computer without my knowing it?
A: Unless you let them, people can't just get into your computer. Check your computer's System Preferences to make sure it's not open to file sharing, and ensure your children haven't installed software that allows for file sharing. The good news is that even with popular peer-to-peer music sharing, in most cases people can only see your music folder, and they cannot damage your computer. They do, however, have access to your hard drive, which isn't exactly a great idea.
If your computer system includes Parental Controls, set them to fit your family's needs. Also, set the Preferences in your browser (i.e., Firefox). You'll want to decide, for example, whether to allow your system to accept cookies, which are pieces of information (i.e., name and address) about you or your children that are created when you visit certain Web sites. If you make a purchase at an online store, the cookies created during your visit are stored on your hard drive, and then, are available to the store's Web server whenever you visit that site.
When setting up your wireless network, turn off file sharing, password-protect your network, and activate all security options. If you use wireless connections in public places (coffee shops, airports, hotels), keep in mind that it's best not to transmit private information because you don't know how secure free or short-term for-pay networks are.
Some Internet Service Providers (ISPs), like Cablevision’s Optimum Online, offer free software tools that can help you keep your children and your computer systems safe. In addition to an antivirus program and parental controls, Optimum Online features a firewall that can be set to protect your computer from file sharing. For lists of file sharing software and child safety software, check the Online Resources section of Internet Smarts at www.powertolearn.com.
Q5: How can I help my children with schoolwork?
A: Even if your children seem to be tech experts, they probably still need your help when it comes to schoolwork and the computer.
Here are a few suggestions:
For lists of great sites for kids, children's search engines, and loads of ways to help your children with their schoolwork, visit Parenting with Technology and Computers and You at www.powertolearn.com.
- Add some "teacher-favorite" sites from respected institutions, like the Smithsonian, Biography, and National Geographic to your browser's Favorites or Bookmarks. This will encourage your children to start their searches for information on quality sites.
- Introduce younger children to children's search engines such as Kids Click!, Ask for Kids and Yahoo Kids!
- Show your children how to copy and paste Web site addresses (URLs) into the address area of a browser and into word processing documents. This procedure will help to eliminate mistakes.
- Teach your children to avoid plagiarism by copying and pasting Web content into a word processing document, putting quotation marks around the text, and adding a citation. Remind them that they need to cite sources for images and photographs as well as text. For more information see the Fair Use section of the Internet Smarts: Interactive Case Studies at www.powerotlearn.com.
- Brainstorm with your children the various ways assignments can be completed using the computer. Show them how to save notes and create computer folders to organize their notes.
- Check with your children's teachers and school and community librarians to find out how to connect to information databases that may be available for your children's use at home.
Q6: What’s a cyberbully?
Cyberbullies are bullies who operate in cyberspace. Their actions range from teasing to harassment and threats. Some are classmates, while others are online acquaintances or even strangers. Bullies may send mean or embarrassing e-mails, post or send out unattractive photos, or harass players during online games.
Embarrassment may cause children to hide what is happening. That's why you need to keep up an on-going conversation with your kids about their online activities, and supervise as best you can. Let them know that it’s not their fault if others are making them feel uncomfortable.
By insisting that your children show respect for others, there will be less chance that your children will become cyberbullies. Help your children learn to appreciate other young people who are not close friends and to stand up for those who are picked on.
Set up rules for your children's use of digital communication, including what to do if they encounter a cyberbully and what the penalties will be if they are disrespectful to others. See the Cyberbullying parent guide in the Internet Smarts: Interactive Case Studies section at www.powertolearn.com.
Q7: How can my kids recognize misinformation?
A: What is the first thing kids do today when they have to do research? They go to a search engine, like Google. But not all the information that the search returns is accurate. For instance, if a kid is looking for information about the lunar landing, he may wander into a spoof site that says there was no lunar landing and that NASA missions were Hollywood productions. There's even a spoof site about a tropical paradise in Minnesota. Spoof sites like these are easy to recognize for what they are, but some run by hate groups and others promoting debatable health remedies, give the impression that they are historically and/or scientifically accurate.
To avoid such sites, your children should:
- Start their searches with respected sites. Examples: The American Library Association's list of sites, a museum site, the Library of Congress, etc.
- Consider who recommended the site. Was it a teacher or a librarian? Was it a link from a respected site?
- Think about the purpose of the site. Does it seem to be promoting the author's point of view? Is it an advertisement?
- Decide if the information sounds right. How old is the information? Does it make sense based upon what your children already know?
- Recognize the democratic nature of the Internet. Anyone can post online, so discuss the risks and benefits of sites like Wikipedia.
- Check out Internet Smarts: Interactive Case Studies - Misinformation at www.powertolearn.com.
Q8: What can I do about junk and scam e-mails?
You'll probably never completely get rid of unsolicited mail that arrives on your computer. Worse still, kids may open this mail, exposing them to porn ads, get rich scams, advertisements and computer viruses. You’ll need to establish rules.
General rules for your children:
To avoid unwanted e-mails, check to see if your mail program has filters you can put to work. You might also want to look into anti-spam software.
- Never click on e-mail from anyone you don't know, and do not open files or click on links in e-mail sent by people you don't know.
- If you open e-mail that is upsetting, let your parents know immediately.
- Think twice before giving your e-mail address out online.
- Uncheck any boxes on sites that sign you up for e-mail or offer to share your address with other organizations. Don’t sign up for "free" products.
- “Phishing” e-mail looks like it comes from legitimate organizations but is fraudulent. Never respond to an e-mail that asks you to provide your credit card number, password, username, address, and/or other personal information. Do not click on any links within these e-mails either.
Q9: What do I need to know about viruses, antivirus software, filters and monitors?
A: Some computer viruses are simply annoying, while others can do major damage to your computer. Your computer can "catch" a virus if you download software or open e-mail attachments or even attachments on social networking (i.e. Facebook) pages that are "infected", or if you upload software to your computer from a disk that has infected files. Infected peer-to-peer network files, often used for music sharing, will make your computer "sick" as well.
To avoid viruses, only download files from people or organizations you trust, and never open e-mail attachments that you didn't expect to receive. Be aware that viruses sometimes arrive in e-mail that seems to be from someone you know. Be sure to add software that includes virus protection to your computer and to set that protection to update automatically. Finally, don't forget to back up your files.
Some filtering and monitoring packages, such as those available through Optimum Online, contain virus protection in addition to child safety software. For details visit the Filtering, Monitoring & Blocking section of Internet Smarts: What Parents Need to Know at www.powertolearn.com.
Q10: Are social networking (Facebook, etc.), blogging, twittering, IMing and chatting safe?
A: Digital communication (blogging, twittering, IMing, posting profiles, etc.) isn’t dangerous if your children follow family guidelines. Set up different rules for different-aged children. While the social networking sites set up by schools or others are usually safe, you cannot assume that any social network is completely free of problems.
Learn about the online activities that interest your children, decide which are appropriate, and work with your children to establish how they can use them safely, effectively and enjoyably. Your children need to know how to protect themselves, and that means knowledge of the risks and how to avoid them.
Here are a few key points that young people need to know:
- Social networking sites are public spaces. Kids should not assume their profiles are in any way private. Colleges report that they look online to learn about prospective students, and these searches have impacted negatively on those with inappropriate material on their profile. Cyberbullies and predators also surf profiles.
- Digital information leaves a trail that can’t always be deleted. The minute something is posted it can be copied and circulated by anyone who sees it. “Sexting,” the sending or receiving of sexually-suggestive or explicit text or pictures via a cell phone, for example, can be particularly hurtful. Don’t let your kids think that when they hit a delete button digital information can be deleted. Digital information never really dies.
- To learn more about digital communication, see the Interactive Case Studies: Social Networking - Don't Give Yourself Away and the What Parents Need to Know section at www.powertolearn.com.
Q11: What rules should I set up for my children's time in cyberspace?
A: To keep your kids as safe as possible online, work with them to set up rules. Your rules might include:
It's a good idea to place the computers your children use where you can see what they are doing and monitor their activities from time to time. Even if you purchase filtering and/or monitoring software to help you keep your children safe, remember that some kids are masters at getting around these programs. Put trust in your children, but temper that trust with supervision.
- When and for how long they can go online, what types of sites they can visit, and what types of digital communication they can use
- Details about information they may, or may not, give out online. They should not, for example, give out any personal information including name, address, phone numbers, school, sports teams, etc.
- Information about your expectations for their use of technologies; e.g., be respectful of others online, do not agree to meet anyone they only know from online, let you know if they encounter a problem online, do not select user names or post photos of themselves that will invite unwanted attention or harassment
- Specific penalties for not abiding by the family rules
Q12: What do I need to think about if my kids play video games or download PodCasts and Apps?
A: Because of the violent nature of many of the games, make sure you are familiar with the video game rating system that appears on the box, and don't buy games or let your child play games that are inappropriate. Many video and computer games now have an online component that allows players to compete against friends and strangers, as well as chat and text message with them. To combat cyberbullying and contact with adults posing as kids, make sure you are familiar with the safety features of your game system including muting and blocking players and guidelines for reporting misconduct. You'll find this information on game console manufacturers' Web sites. Also, be wary of letting your child download unofficial "mods" (game modifications) that may add a more violent component to a game. Many kids also play online computer games. These sites often require registration to play. Kids should never disclose personal information and even providing an e-mail address can subject you to unwanted and inappropriate spam. For more information see Internet Smarts: What Parents Need to Know - Gaming at www.powertolearn.com.
Apps are small programs that can be loaded on mobile devices (Blackberry, iPhone, Palm Pre, etc.). Both these and Podcasts can be downloaded to phones and computers. While many are wonderful for learning and entertainment, some contain adult-only content.
Q13: What are the dangers associated with wireless devices?
A: Kids can use cell and smart phones, game devices, and laptop/notebook computers both to connect wirelessly to the Web and to communicate digitally. Not all these devices have this capability, but if the ones your kids have do, they'll face the dangers associated with desktop computer use (accessing inappropriate sites, interacting with strangers online, downloading viruses) as well as wireless dangers such as the intercepting of private messages that are sent through unsecured networks in public places.
Because these devices are small and mobile, it’s difficult to monitor their use. Kids won't just be connecting from home, and they won't just be connecting from your network. If your neighbors live within 300' of your house and haven't secured their wireless networks, your children can use your neighbors' networks to get online or they can go to the local coffee shop, library or fast food place to get access. You should also be aware that the filtering and monitoring software you can purchase for desktop and laptop computers is not available at this time for all digital devices. Many new devices especially game consoles, and some cell phones, include parental controls. Ask before you buy.
Many schools do not allow wireless devices including cell phones to be turned on during school hours, and some schools do not allow students to carry wireless devices. Both parents and students should be aware of these rules.
Learn more about securing your wireless network and protecting your children in What Parents Need to Know: The Wireless World or learn the basics of this technology in Everything You Need to Know about Wireless, both in Internet Smarts at www.powertolearn.com.
Q14: What are the dangers associated with wireless devices?
A: With all kinds of media bombarding our lives today, it seems almost impossible to keep up. You shouldn't expect to know everything about every game, movie, software program, advertisement, or Web site. The good news is that you don't have to be a media or tech guru to keep your children safe. Sure, it's great to learn what you can, but you already know what is best for your children, and that’s what is most important.
As a good parent, let common sense be your guide when dealing with your kids and media available today. Help them learn about different types of media, how to avoid media that is inappropriate, how to detect bias, and not to be afraid to ask questions about media messages. When dealing with today's media options, expect your children to live up to the values you've taught them since they were little. Those values are appropriate online as well as off.
There's lots of help for you, too. A variety of sites feature a wealth of information about movies, television programs, games, and more. Internet Smarts: What Parents Need to Know at www.powertolearn.com is a comprehensive resource available for parents who want to know about keeping their children safe when it comes to use of media.
Learn about and utilize the parental control options on your cable box, review Internet Smarts, find out if your children have social networking profiles online, do a search on your children’s names, don’t allow Webcams in bedrooms, etc. In other words, stay on top of the risks of digital media, and let your children know you are paying attention.