Safely Surfing the Net

The Internet has changed our world forever. Information on any subject is available 24/7. There are very few restrictions on what people can put on the Internet which means there are many sites totally unsuitable for children. Unfortunately, there are also unscrupulous people in cyberspace who will happily take advantage of children.

To keep your children safe on the Net set some basic rules for them. Discuss these rules with your children and make sure they are totally clear about the rules and that the rules are non-negotiable (computer privileges can be suspended when rules are broken).

It may be necessary to make rules that are appropriate to the age of the child. For smaller children pin a copy of your family Internet rules near the computer. Discuss as a family, what sites you consider inappropriate and why.

Supervision of computer usage is vital. Again, this may need to be altered to suit the age of the child, but even teenagers should have someone occasionally check the sites they choose to surf. If the computer is in their bedroom set time limits when it can be used and do random checks of what sites they are surfing.

Explain to children that they should never, under any circumstances, give out their name, age, address, phone number or any other personal details on the Internet. This is particularly true when visiting chat rooms. Also, children should never send their photo to anyone without their parents' permission. If you suspect anyone is showing an interest in obtaining private information from your child, stop using the site in-question and report the issue to the site manager. There is usually a contact email address on the website (or you can contact your Internet Service Provider).

Be aware of whom your child is making friends with on-line; just as you would with any friend they make off line. If your child resents you monitoring their on-line chats give them a choice of having chats monitored occasionally or not being allowed to use chats at all. Emphasize you are doing it for their safety.

Another option to enable children to surf the net safely is to install software which will filter what content your child can access on the Net. These generally work by preventing entry to sites whose names contain keywords that you put on a banned list. While these can be very useful in some instances, they can prevent older children viewing legitimate sites that they may need to access for homework.

You can also alter settings on your computer's Internet Browser to prevent some sites from being accessed. Check with your Internet Service Provider to see if they may also offer some form of protection.

The Internet is a tool which when carefully used can be of great benefit. Our children have never known a world without the Internet and it's up to each of us to ensure their safety in this exciting (and challenging) new technological world.