What Are Your Kids Doing Online?

No need to argue that Internet is a great place for kids and teens. It is like a big city with its libraries, universities and museums, places to have fun and opportunities to meet people from all walks of life. But just like any big city, it has its own dangers, places that are not appropriate for kids and people they should avoid.

The most evident concern of any parent is pgraphy. But the potential risks to your child’s safety are not restricted to just unintentional exposure to adult stuff. There are many other dangers, and even such seemingly innocent activities as online chatting can be hazardous for your kid’s safety. Here are just two recent examples:

May, 2002 — A 13-year old girl was murdered in Connecticut by a man she met through an online chat room. Police said that the girl, who was a captain of her school cheerleading squad and an altar girl, used almost a dozen provocative screen names on the America Online account she accessed from the computer in her bedroom, and routinely had sex with partners she met in various chat rooms.

August, 2001 — A 15-year-old Massachusetts girl was kidnapped, held captive, tortured and raped by a New York couple she met in an Internet chat room. The girl had told them in an online chat room that she wanted to run away from home, and they offered to help.

An extensive list of links to such stories can be found at wildxangel.com/netcrime1.html — a site devoted to adult and child safety online and to risks and hazards of Internet dating.

Less shocking but even more frequent stories are often related to disclosing the parents’ private data (such as names and credit card numbers) to strangers or doing something that violates another person’s rights and can be subject to legal prosecution.

How Can You Ensure Your Child’s Safety? No doubt, the best way to ensure you child’s safety in the cyberspace, is to be with him/her. But this is not always possible and moreover, can cause your children’s objections when they grow into their teens. What are the possible solutions?

First you should consider installing on your computer a filtering software, that blocks access to dubious sites. The best titles in this industry include Cyber Patrol based on an extensive and constantly updated list of inappropriate sites, and WebChaperone that uses heuristic algorithms to recognize and block pgraphy. Both programs work pretty well, ensuring your child’s protections from pgraphy.

But filtering software is designed mainly for blocking children access to adult sites and hardly can help to solve the issues of online communication. You cannot tell in advance what kind of communication will be safe for you kid and which can turn to be dangerous. There is, of course, a draconian approach that involves blocking access to online forums and chat rooms completely, but it doesn’t seem to be very wise, because it carries huge social disadvantages depriving kids of activities that are very important for their personal development. A solution can lie in using various kinds of monitoring software to ensure your child’s safety. A good example of this kind of software is Family Keylogger — a tiny utility that stays resident in computer’s memory and writes to a special log file all keystrokes so that you can easily see what your child writes while being online (i.e. you can track all communication via e-mail, instant messaging software, chat rooms etc.). Family Key Logger works in completely hidden mode, ensuring that your activity remains unnoticed. If you think that this is unfair, and use this software rather for prevention, that for collecting evidence, you may prefer to notify your child that his/her online activities are monitored (be sure to explain, that this is done solely for you child’s safety).

Sure we couldn’t cover all aspects of child safety online is such a tiny article, but rather just outlined some problems and suggested possible solutions. It’s up to you to decide, what methods to choose and how to ensure your child’s safety on the information superhighway.