(Don't even get me started on Hulu, YouTube, or networks airing unedited episodes online.)
Here are some keys to making sure your kids are safe while in your home. And if they're out of your home? Yikes:
1. Get a filter/parental controls software program. NetNanny, Barracuda, BSecure, Norton and McAfee all have great filters, with a wide menu of choices to tailor the needs for each family. If you have a Mac, SafeEyes is a good choice.
2. Talk to your kids about what's ok in your household and what's not. Make sure they know that YOU know the internet is overwhelming. Get on their level. If they see you value them enough for an honest and non-threatening conversation, they'll be less likely to sneak around looking for banned sites.
3. See # 1.
4. Just say no...to chat rooms. There is no need for these. Ever. Eh-vah. Even on seemingly 'safe' kids' sites, chat rooms are usually infiltrated by faceless perverts posing as iCarly-loving tweens. Did you see #1 on my list? Most programs block chat rooms, anyway.
5. No to Facebook, MySpace (does anyone even use that anymore?), Twitter, and all social networking. Here's why: Your kids don't need to be updating people nonstop about what they're doing. It's an open invitation for pedophiles, rapists, overzealous classmates, cyber bullies, etc. And if they whine and complain that they're the only ones who aren't on Facebook, they feel left out, it's embarrassing, yaddya, yaddya, yaddya...too bad. When they pay the bills, they can Facebook all they want.
6. Monitor their cell phones with internet capabilities. Call your provider and tell them which sites are blocked. If I were you, I'd limit phone useage to just calls and texting, but that's me. I kind of enjoy telling my kids 'no', but I understand that's a rare gift.
7. Learn how to read your browsing history. Most filters are equipped with keystroke tracking and methods to see what has been cleared in your cache or browser. Be informed, parents. Don't fall victim to a common trap: Don't believe that your teenager actually thinks you're smart, or that they're telling the truth.
8. See #1
9. No to blogs...websites....pages, etc. I once had a parent ask me if it was safe to let her 11 year-old daughter start a blog. "Why does she want to?" I responded. "Oh, just to share pictures and stories, and to keep all her friends updated. We move a lot due to my husband's job." I asked her if she'd feel comfortable dropping her daughter off at Central Park at 3 AM. Pretty much the same thing.
10. Make sure your kids know that your rules don't end at the driveway; they are to be followed everywhere. This may not always happen, but kids like to have guidelines, and if you're able to talk with them openly and honestly, and respect their input, they're much more likely to follow the rules. Even though we know what's best for them and yes, the hormones are making them appear psychopathic, they will respond (through rolling eyes and sarcastic smirks) to your leveling with them.
- 4 out of every 6 kid's parents have little or no idea what their kid surfs on the Internet
- 40% teenagers receive a request online for personal information. (1)
- Girls are twice as likely as boys to be cyber bullies as well as be targeted by cyber bullies. Normally boys are the most likely children to bully others but this is not true with cyber bullying. Boys tend to physically bully others while girls use emotional methods, which can be perfectly carried out over the computer. (2)
- Thirty-four percent (34%) had an unwanted exposure to sexual material -- pictures of naked people or people having sex. (4)
- 1 in 3 teens (12-17) have experienced online harassment. (5)
- 27% of teens (12-17) play games with people they don’t know online. (6)
- 1 in 25 youths received an online sexual solicitation where the solicitor tried to make offline contact.(7)
1. Buzzle.com, 2010
2. Cybertron, 2011
3. Love Our Children, 2011
4, 5, 6, 7. National Center For Missing and Exploited Children