Parents can minimize kids risks on Internet

Posted: Sunday, February 26, 2006

Almost anything can be risky or dangerous. Highway accidents occur every day, but they don't stop most people from driving. Pedestrians get hit by cars and slip on ice, but that doesn’t stop people from walking.

Bad things sometimes happen when people boat, hike, bike, hunt or fish, but they still enjoy the outdoors and all it has to offer. People get hurt doing the most mundane and routine of chores, but nobody calls for a moratorium on chores.

Today’s information highway carries its own set of dangers, but that doesn’t mean the Internet is an inherently dangerous place. Like other activities, the risks of traveling in cyberspace can be minimized with lots of common sense and some knowledge of how to avoid the Internet’s pitfalls.

In today’s Clarion is a story about a Web site,, popular with teenagers. The site has received national attention because of allegations that sexual predators found their victims through it. A lot — maybe even most — of what the kids post is typical teen stuff. But some of it is likely to raise an eyebrow or two among adults. And it should.

Our hope is the story you read today will prompt some family discussions about what is and is not appropriate information for the Web. We hope parents will ask their teens about their profiles and their friends’ profiles. We hope parents will set guidelines about what their children should share on the Web. We hope parents and kids will talk about how to minimize the dangers and maximize the benefits of the Web.

What we don’t want to happen is for parents to pull the plug on Internet use because of the bad things that could happen or because some kids share inappropriate information.

The Internet provides a wealth of information to users, and it does connect people continents away from each other with a virtual click.

However, just as there are rules of the road for driving, parents should establish some rules for Internet use in their household to protect their children. Like it is for most things, the Internet is a great source of information for online safety. Here are a few of the “golden rules”:

Never give out identifying information — name, age, address, phone number or school name.

Become familiar with the Internet and the sites and services your child uses. Learn your child’s user names and passwords.

Never respond to messages that are suggestive, obscene, threatening or make you feel uncomfortable.

Do not open any links contained in an e-mail from people you don’t know.

Don’t believe everything you read online. People online may not be who they seem, and online offers that seem too good to be true probably are.

Set reasonable rules and guidelines for computer use for your children. Monitor the time your children spend on the computer and if possible keep the computer in a family room.

Get to know your children’s online friends just as you would their other friends.

Parenting never was an easy job. The Internet adds some challenges to parental duties, but the fact is parents who take responsibility for their children’s time in cyberspace greatly reduce the risks they may encounter there.

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