Online Safety For Kids (And Adults)

There is a lot of discussion these days about kids and the Internet. Parents, myself included, are rightfully concerned about what our children can access, and who has access to them. Businesses are concerned about liability issues and the compromise of customer data, in the pervasively interpersonal world of instant communication.

The same techniques used to secure a corporate computer can, and should, be used to secure a personal home computer. The same policies used by corporations can be modified for a family environment. By including your kids in the process of creating a home Internet policy, you'll be able to supervise their Internet access while allowing them the freedom to explore.

Corporations typically have an "acceptable use policy," which governs what is allowed or prohibited on the company network. It's part of the employee handbook, and looks like this:

This computer system is for authorized use only. By using this system, the user consents to such interception, monitoring, recording, copying, auditing, inspection, and disclosure at the discretion of authorized personnel. Unauthorized or improper use of this system may result in disciplinary action and civil and criminal penalties. By continuing to use this system you indicate your awareness of and consent to these terms and conditions of use.
Parents can create a home policy based on these ideas. This is not to say you should treat your children like little employees, but you can use the same concepts to start a family discussion about online safety. It's up to you to keep up with the latest techno-fashions, so you know how to respond to things like MySpace accounts and multiplayer games. You're reading this article, so you've already made a good start.

First things first, you have to properly protect your machine. It's no use badgering your kids about downloading music when you don't even have up-to-date antivirus software. We've been over the drill, but let's review the "four-legged chair," the four critical things you need to secure your computer:

  • Antivirus software
  • Anti-spyware software
  • A firewall, hardware or software
  • The latest updates
I presume you've taken care of this. If not, or you're not sure, I can check for you on my next visit. You might also want to re-read "How To Protect From Cybercrime" and "You Could Be A Computer Criminal" from the August 2008 issue of Tech Tips, which include more detail on security protections.

Now, you need to decide what your home policies will be. Are your kids only allowed to use the Internet during certain hours, or after homework is done? What services can they use (such as email, web, and chat)? Will you use parental controls, and if so, what kind? Will you be recording their chat sessions, logging the sites they visit, counting the tunes they buy? Be open to negotiation. Nothing will alienate a kid faster than laying down the law, and they seem to view the Internet as their personal possession.

Once it's been discussed, put your policy in writing and sign it with your kids, just like a corporate policy. Now that the rules are clear, and protections in place, you can let your kids surf. But remember, no technology can substitute for supervision. Consider locating the computer in a public area. You'll also want to review with them the following safety tips. If they're chatting with friends, suggest they set up a code phrase, so they can verify the human behind the screenname. Never give out personal information, such as full name, address, or school. And they should never, ever, make arrangements to meet an online friend in the real world unless they, and you, are positive of that person's true identity.

What parental control options are available? Your Internet service may already include some; check with your provider. Otherwise you can use a software program. I'll be reviewing your choices for "Parental Control Software" in the upcoming September 2008 issue of Tech Tips.

Finally, hand this column to your kids. This paragraph is for them:
Yes, I'm your parents' age, but my generation came up with all that technology you're enjoying, so take off the earbuds and listen. When you're on the computer, use your common sense. The Internet is a public network, and anything you post can be viewed by perfect strangers, potential employers, or your parents. Be aware of how to protect yourself, and your computer. Then next time you want to go online, you won't have to worry that your computer will crash, and your parents won't have to worry about you.

[This article is reprinted from the March 2007 issue of Triona's Tech Tips. More advice on kids, computers and the Internet coming in September.]

Posted byTriona Guidry at 2:03 PM  

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