Information Possibly Outdated
The information presented on this page was originally released on July 5, 1999. It may not be outdated, but please search our site for more current information. If you plan to quote or reference this information in a publication, please check with the Extension specialist or author before proceeding.
Protecting Children From Risks On The Internet
By Chuck Dunlap
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Children and teenagers have access to many benefits from being online, but they can also be targets of crime, exploitation and pornography from behind the keyboard just as in any other environment.
Kids are trusting, curious and anxious to explore this new world and the relationships the Internet brings to them. Children and teenagers need parental supervision and common sense advice on how to be sure that their experiences in "cyberspace" are happy, healthy and productive ones.
Most Internet crimes against children go unreported, especially if the child is involved in an activity that he or she doesn't want to discuss with the parent. The fact that crimes are being committed online is not a reason to avoid using the services, but rather a reason to teach children how to be "street smart" to safeguard themselves in any potentially dangerous situation.
Dr. Matt Raven, an associate professor and Director of User Services at Mississippi State University, said the Internet is like any other tool when used correctly.
"In the case of children under adult supervision, it allows us to work or play with greater ease," Raven said. "However, if used incorrectly, problems can arise. Therefore, parents should make sure their children navigate the Internet safely just as they should when their children are driving a bike or a car rather than a computer."
Teenagers are particularly at risk on the Internet because they often use the computer unsupervised and because they are more likely than young children to participate in online discussions regarding companionship, relationships or sexual activity. The biggest risks include: exposure to inappropriate or pornographic material, physical molestation as a result of a meeting arranged online and harassment.
Lawrence J. Magrid, a syndicated columnist for the Los Angeles Times and author of "Cruising Online" and "The Little PC Book", said parents now have many options when it comes to Internet safety for their children.
"Most online services and Internet providers allow parents to limit their children's access to certain services and features such as adult oriented-chat sessions and bulletin boards," Magrid stated in a release by the U.S. Department of Education. "Filtering or blocking software are available for parents to prevent children from accessing inappropriate materials on the Internet.
"Most elementary and secondary schools across the country have these programs pre-installed. These filter programs help parents control their children's access to Internet sites while unsupervised, but they cannot take the place of parental involvement and supervision," Magrid said.
Experts say the best way to assure children are having positive online experiences is to stay in touch with what they are doing. One way to do this is to spend time with the children while they are online. Have them demonstrate what they are doing and ask them to teach you how to access and use the services.
"While children and teenagers need a certain amount of privacy, they also need parental involvement and supervision in their daily lives. The same general parenting skills that apply to the real world also apply while online," Magrid added.
"If you have a cause for concern about your children's online activities, talk to them about it. Also seek out the advice and counsel of other computer users in your area and become familiar with literature on these systems," Magrid said.
Open communication with your children, use of such computer resources and getting online yourself will help you obtain the full benefits of these systems and alert you to any potential problem that may occur with their use. The Internet can serve as an invaluable educational tool for your children, if they are taught the correct and responsible ways of using it.