Kids, the Internet and safety & security

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I generally operated under the assumption that younger generations who’ve grown up using the Internet had a well-developed understanding of the dangers and possible risks. I figured it was just a routine part of their safety and security education as soon as they were coordinated enough to click a mouse. Essentially, virtual security rules drilled into them as vehemently as the “look left-right-left before crossing the street” and “don’t take candy from strangers” type of rules. Two recent events have given me pause about the kids and the Internet.

First, during a family get-together, I noticed one of the kids, a 9-year-old girl, was using the avatar of a buxom blond in black lingerie to play an online game. I quizzed her about the other game players (and how she knew they were who they said they were), why she chose such an avatar and how she was keeping safe. She was convinced only other kids her age were playing the game and said it wasn’t possible for someone to pretend to be other than who they really were. She saw no risk in sharing personal information, no reason to believe people were other than who they said they were, and she seemed shocked by my shock.

Second, two of my nephews (14 and 11 years old) were telling my sister, husband and I about an online game they play in a “secure” network with four other friends. Recently, they all logged on to play and saw a castle had been built since they last time they played. All the players denied building it. My nephews were stumped; how did this happen. They began speculating on the possibility of cyber ghosts. My husband, sister and I all said the same thing: if you believe none of the other players secretly did it, you’ve been hacked. They argued it wasn’t possible – it was a closed network; the server was off; it’s unhackable … yada, yada, yada.

That night, my husband and I had a long discussion about how kids today are so computer savvy, so internet savvy, but so naïve of the risks. I decided I needed to start educating myself on how to talk to our son about internet safety. There are a lot of resources for parents, on lots of different aspects of Internet security. Here’s a bit of what I found on the FBI’s site:

What Can You Do To Minimize The Chances Of An On-line Exploiter Victimizing Your Child?

  • Communicate, and talk to your child about sexual victimization and potential on-line danger.
  • Spend time with your children on-line. Have them teach you about their favorite on-line destinations.
  • Keep the computer in a common room in the house, not in your child's bedroom. It is much more difficult for a computer-sex offender to communicate with a child when the computer screen is visible to a parent or another member of the household.
  • Utilize parental controls provided by your service provider and/or blocking software. While electronic chat can be a great place for children to make new friends and discuss various topics of interest, it is also prowled by computer-sex offenders. Use of chat rooms, in particular, should be heavily monitored. While parents should utilize these mechanisms, they should not totally rely on them.
  • Always maintain access to your child's on-line account and randomly check his/her e-mail. Be aware that your child could be contacted through the U.S. Mail. Be up front with your child about your access and reasons why. • Find out what computer safeguards are utilized by your child's school, the public library, and at the homes of your child's friends. These are all places, outside your normal supervision, where your child could encounter an on-line predator.
  • Understand, even if your child was a willing participant in any form of sexual exploitation, that he/she is not at fault and is the victim. The offender always bears the complete responsibility for his or her actions.
  • Instruct your children:
    • to never arrange a face-to-face meeting with someone they met on- line;
    • to never upload (post) pictures of themselves onto the Internet or on-line service to people they do not personally know; -to never download pictures from an unknown source, as there is a good chance there could be sexually explicit images;
    • to never respond to messages or bulletin board postings that are suggestive, obscene, belligerent, or harassing;
    • that whatever they are told on-line may or may not be true.