Sage Advice: Child Safety on the Internet

How do you teach your kids to be safe online?

How do you teach your kids to be safe online?

My son, age 13, started going online with me while he was still a toddler. He would sit in my lap while I was doing searches and such. As he got older (5-6) and wanted to go online, I began talking with him about the Internet sites he wanted to visit and about what information he should share while online. Also, my husband and I chose to place our computers in the living room in plain view so we can monitor his online activities.

Denise A. Garofalo

Mother of a 13-year-old boy
Newburgh, New York

As a parent, your job is to personalize the remote messages on Internet safety your kids hear in school, to make the subject important in your home and to your family. Print a weekly report of your child's online activity and look over this report with your child.

Question him about any sites he visited that you are uncertain about. Talk about the activity that isn't in dispute with comments such as, "I see a lot of history sites. Is that because of your report on Alexander the Great?" Let him know you are aware of (and care about) what is going on in his life.

Robin Scott

Mother of an 11-year-old boy
Birmingham, Alabama

No one can deny the presence of technology within our schools, our places of employment, and our homes. The 21st century has imposed technology as a mainstay within our society; now, we must examine how to facilitate a relationship between our youth and technology. How do we teach our children to be safe online? Although at first glance one may think that this is a difficult question to answer, it's actually quite simple: parenting.

First, we model our behavior online. Children's learned behaviors tend to mimic those of their parents or caregivers. If we use the Internet ourselves in a responsible way, we are modeling good behavior for our children. Second, parents must monitor their children while they are using the Internet. With parents present and involved, children can learn which places are safe and which are unsafe.

Just as we teach our children to practice caution before leaving the house and riding their bikes to explore the world, so, too, must we teach them to protect themselves in this 21st century, where technology is ever present.

Atiera Ransavage

Educator and mother of a seven-year-old girl
Stockton Borough School
Stockton, New Jersey

I continuously tell my kids that they have to be careful with the words they choose when talking to friends online. I also tell them that any pictures and words they post on their Facebook or MySpace accounts can and will be used against them. If they wouldn't say it to their grandmother, then they shouldn't be saying it online to their friends. I have no tolerance for bullying (be it cyber or face-to-face).

What I have found in talking with my teenage son is that a lot of kids talk trash about one another online. Some do so in a joking, funny way, but others do it in a quasi-bullying fashion. As we know, things that start small can turn into big, ugly, hurtful situations for kids. My son was a victim of cyberbullying, and I nipped it in the bud.

Because we do communicate and ask questions and because my son does talk about things, we as parents were able to address this and resolve the problem before it escalated into something bigger.

In addition to using netiquette and being appropriate online, children have to screen their friend requests in Facebook. They need to know who is requesting them as a friend and why before they confirm someone as a friend.

Last, I tell them that there are online predators who know all the tricks to lure them in. The scary thing about the Internet is that people can take on different identities and become someone else!

We had a situation in out hometown in which two middle school girls were talking to a "boy" online. They became suspicious when the boy wanted to meet them at the local Domino's Pizza. The girls alerted the school administration, which then alerted the local authorities. The police and the FBI set up a sting. When the "boy" went to the Domino's to meet with the two girls, he was arrested on the spot. He was in fact a 28-year-old male who lived in town. Be cautious, and be careful!

Lita Motroni

Parent of a boy in middle school and a boy in high school
Business and secondary school special educator
Scituate, Rhode Island

As a parent, I use a sophisticated proxy server named Integrity Online to filter search requests for my household of surfers. Between children, friends, and cousins, there are users ages 2-18 searching the Internet. Integrity Online has faithfully prevented many "oops" incidents for many years. This service is understanding enough to provide rapid review of requests so you can unblock legitimate sites that are being blocked.

As a public school teacher of information technology, I use a free, Web-based bookmarking utility called Portaportal. I teach more than 500 students annually, and we use the Internet for supporting research and developing digital art projects.

Long URLs are a problem for students to type in to get to the learning activity. Using Portaportal allows students to get to sites quickly so they can begin the lesson. Additionally, Portaportal minimizes the tendency of students to wander off into regions of the Internet that aren't approved, because they are clicking only on links preapproved by the teacher.

As a parent and a teacher, I actively educate my family and students on the need to be aware of the potential for good and evil on the Internet. We engage in regular and robust discussions about the places we visit on the Internet and the appropriate uses of technology.

Michael W. Hurst

Rigler School
Portland, Oregon

Online safety has a lot to do with parent involvement. First, we allow Internet access only in public places such as the living room, the kitchen, or the family room. Second, online and email contracts between child and parent are vital. I received this idea from a friend who used it with her daughter, and now our oldest daughter (age 10) has signed one with us.

It not only opened doors to many discussions but also helped her understand the responsibility that came with this new-found "freedom." Included in the contract is the understanding that Mom and Dad will always have full access to any of her Web and email accounts. We access her accounts throughout the week and help her navigate through spam and email communications with friends while giving her guidance -- even when not asked.

Kim Haugo

Library media specialist and mother of two girls
Osseo Area Schools
Maple Grove, Minnesota

Today's students have no fear about doing stuff on computers or online. Though this confidence can lead to safety issues, there's a lot to be said about being free to try and learn something new. Adults always taught me not to experiment with computers. They assumed that I would learn first what to do and then do it, which has led me to be incredibly cautious about everything to do with computers and stuff online.

Stephanie Saez-Hamilton

Technology trainer
Hillsborough Schools
Tampa Bay, Florida

We are a new independent school for students who have learning-style differences such as dyslexia or Asperger's syndrome. All have at least average intelligence. We do have one alum who is now earning all A's at his high school.

That being said, our kids can find unauthorized sites quicker than lightning. Such sites are everywhere. We do have parental controls on, and we have a list of which sites they can access. However, the negative sites seem to be more colorful, engaging, and attractive than the approved ones. Some of them would make you ill.

Whatever you could do to make the educational world safer would be a tremendous boon to this community.

Kathy Farrell

Head of school
Vista Preparatory School
Andover, Massachusetts

Teach them not to reply to people they do not know. Talk about possible scenarios that they might encounter online. And, most important, listen to your kids when they talk about their issues. Don't preach or try to fix problems, because sometimes they just need to talk about their feelings. If you don't listen to them, they will find someone who will.

Linda Rowland

Robert Louis Stevenson Middle School
St. Helena, California

It's simple -- micromanage their every move! No violent games, no pornography, no crap. My kids use the Internet for research on topics we discuss ahead of time, and then we go to relevant Web sites together.

Also, while you're at it, get that damn TV out of your kid's bedroom! I was a "good" kid, and I watched all kinds of garbage on TV when no one was looking. Peace!

Craig Cooper

Assistant principal
Hazen High School
Renton, Washington