As a mom, I thought I had covered the full range of child safety issues. From baby proofing to bicycle helmets, safety is Priority No. 1. But I had never given much thought to Internet safety—until I discovered my 4-year-old daughter could turn on the computer, launch Internet Explorer and use a book mark to find her favorite Web site.
I am thrilled with my daughter’s technological savvy, but I want her to be safe while surfing.
Patrick Finland, deputy chief at the Lake Zurich Police Department and co-founder of www.internet-safety.org, says my concern is neither uncommon nor unfounded. Eighty-four percent of American children ages 5-9 use computers and 65 percent of 10- to 13-year-olds use the Internet, according to a 2002 report from the U.S. Department of Commerce. A survey from the Pew Internet & American Life Project of the Pew Charitable Trusts, shows 57 percent of parents worry about their children being contacted by strangers online—and 60 percent of teens report they have been contacted by a stranger online.
So it is with good reason that parents worry about what their children will find as they cruise the information superhighway. The Web site, www.internet-safety.org, a joint venture of the Ela Area Public Library, the Northern Illinois Library System and the police departments of Lake Zurich and Hawthorn Woods, receives about 1,200 hits a month (“hits” are visits, for those of us still catching up to the lingo). The site contains Internet safety information, links and strategies for parents who want to help their children with online protection.
Finland, a dad of two, says the main message of the Web site is: “Try to monitor what they [your children] get access to and what they are receiving. Be aware of what they are doing.”
Some strategies for helping children: • Never give out personal information—your address or phone number or the address of your school without your parents’ permission. • If you encounter something online you don’t understand or that makes you uncomfortable, tell a parent or teacher right away. • Do not respond to messages that make you feel uncomfortable. It is not your fault if you get a message like that and it is OK to tell your parents. • Check with your parents before going online.
Some strategies for helping parents: • Keep the computer in a public area—not the child’s bedroom—so you can monitor your child’s online activity. • Set up guidelines about computer use. • Spend time online with your child so you can model good behavior. • Learn about everyone your child meets online and discuss these relationships with your child.