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Internet Safety for Kids - A parent's guide

posted Apr 6, 2010, 1:39 PM by TexasTechies .org   [ updated Apr 6, 2010, 3:01 PM ]
You don't have to be a computer expert to keep your child safe online. As parents, we want our children to be safe and responsible while using technology.   We will have succeeded when each child can recognize and minimize the three main risks associated with all connected technology (i.e., iPods, instant messaging, chat, computer games, game consoles, cell phones, text messaging, webcams).

The three main risks associated with all connected technology are:
  1. Inappropriate Contact –Teach kids how to recognize and protect themselves against contact with cyber-bullies, hackers, phishers, and predators. People aren't always who they say they are. Teach kids to keep away from Internet strangers:  the Internet is a place to enhance existing relationships, not a place to meet new people.
  2. Inappropriate Content- This includes both content that is viewed and content that is uploaded by kids. Help kids understand that the Internet is forever: everything they post online is tracked and stored and will follow them to future job interviews and college entrance interviews.
  3. Inappropriate Conduct – Because the web environment can feel anonymous, some youth become dis-inhibited. Teach kids that the Internet is a public forum: anonymity is a myth. Help them be the good person online that they are when they’re off line.
Once children understand these core risks, three simple guidelines will help parents provide a safe and healthy experience online.

About Texas Techies: All of the email and Internet-related concepts in the software used during our classes are completely simulated, so children learn how to use the Internet in a safe environment without actually going online. Young children should never be online without adult supervision, an important safety factor reinforced throughout our classes. For more information about Texas Techies Computer Classes, please contact us: or 361-774-7454

Quick Facts

Your kids’ personal information and privacy are valuable — to you, to them, and to marketers. Fortunately, there are ways you can safeguard that privacy when your kids are online.

  • Check out sites your kids visit, and see what kind of information the sites ask for or allow kids to post.
  • Talk to your child about the risks and benefits of disclosing certain information, especially in a public forum.
  • Take a look at the privacy policy, which should say what the site does with the information it collects. Then you can decide how you feel about it.
  • Ask questions. If you’re not clear on a site’s practices or policies, ask about them.
  • Be selective with your permission. In many cases, websites need your okay before they’re allowed to collect personal information from your kids. 
  • Know your rights. For example, as a parent, you have the right to have a site delete any personal information it has about your child.
  • Report a website. If you think a site has collected or disclosed information from your kids or marketed to them in a way that violates the law, report it to the FTC.

Whether to study or socialize, play games or learn something new, it’s likely your kids are spending time online. And as a parent, chances are that you’re spending time thinking about ways to make sure they make smart and safe choices when they do. Among the many choices they’re faced with online is how to deal with their personal information.

Kid can be anywhere!

The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act – COPPA – gives parents control over what information websites can collect from their kids. Any website for kids under 13, or any general site that collects personal information from kids it knows are under 13, is required to comply with COPPA. The Federal Trade Commission, the nation’s consumer protection agency, enforces this law.

Thanks to COPPA, sites have to get a parent’s permission if they want to collect or share your kids’ personal information, with only a few exceptions. That goes for information sites ask for up-front, and information your kids choose to post about themselves. Personal information includes your child’s full name, address, email address, or cell phone number.

Under COPPA, sites also have to post privacy policies that give details about what kind of inf

ormation they collect from kids — and what they might do with it (say, to send a weekly newsletter, direct advertising to them, or give the information to other companies). If a site plans to share the child’s information with another company, the privacy policy must say what that company will do with it. Links to the policies should be in places where they’re easy to spot.

What Can You Do?

Your kids’ personal information and privacy are valuable — to you, to them, and to marketers. Here’s how to help protect your kids’ personal information when they’re online.

Check out sites your kids visit. If a site requires users to register, see what kind of information it asks for and whether you’re comfortable with what they tell you. If the site allows kids to post information about themselves, talk to your child about the risks and benefits of disclosing certain information in a public forum. You also can see whether the site appears to be following the most basic COPPA requirements, like clearly posting its privacy policy for parents and asking for parental consent before kids can participate.

Take a look at the privacy policy. Just because a site has a privacy policy doesn’t mean it keeps personal information private. The policy should tell you what the site does with the information it collects; then, you can decide how you feel about it. Remember, if the policy says there are no limits to what it collects or who gets to see it, there are no limits.

Ask questions. If you’re not clear on a site’s practices or policies, ask about them. If the site falls under COPPA, the privacy policy has to include contact information for the site manager.

Be selective with your permission. In many cases, websites need your okay before they’re allowed to collect personal information from your kids. They may ask for your permission in a number of ways, including by email or postal mail. Or, you may give your consent by allowing them to charge your credit card. In addition to considering when to give your permission, consider how much consent you want to give — in many cases, it’s not all or none. You might be able to give the company permission to collect some personal information from your child, but say no to having that information passed along to another marketer.

Know your rights. As a parent, you have the right to have a site delete any personal information it has about your child. Some sites will let you see the information they’ve collected. But first, they’ll need to make sure you really are the parent, either by requiring a signed form or an email with a digital signature, for example, or by verifying a charge made to your credit card. You also have a right to take back your consent and have any information collected from your child deleted.

Report a website. If you think a site has collected or disclosed information from your kids or marketed to them in a way that violates the law, report it to the FTC at or 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4357).

More Tips For Parents

Talk, and talk often. Make sure your kids know what information should be private, and what information might be appropriate for sharing. When they give out their personal information, they give up control of who can reach them, whether it’s with a marketing message or something more personal. On the other hand, sharing some personal information may allow them to participate in certain activities or to get emails about promotions and events they’re interested in.

Depending on what they do online, also remind your kids that once they post information online, they can’t take it back. Even if they delete the information from a site, older versions may exist on other people's computers and be circulated online.

Internet Safety Tips for Kids from Expert Village

Know what sites your kids go to. Talk with your kids about the sites they like to visit. Do some exploring on your own to get to know how the sites work and what privacy settings and controls they offer.

Make agreements. Be sure your kids know what your family has decided is okay — and not okay — to divulge online. Consider writing down a list of the rules your family has agreed on, and posting them where everyone can see them.

Let your kids know you’ll keep an eye on the sites they visit. One option is to check your browser history and temporary files, though keep in mind that older kids may know how to delete these files or keep them from getting recorded. If you’d like more controls, check to see what privacy settings your browser offers or consider software that offers a range of controls. Visit the GetNetWise website to learn more.

Know how your kids get online. Kids may get online using your family computer or someone else’s, as well as through cell phones and game consoles. Know what limits you can place on your child's cell phone — some companies have plans that limit downloads, Internet access, and texting on cell phones; other plans allow kids to use those features at certain times of day. Check out what parental controls are available on the gaming consoles your kids use, as well.

Sage Advice: Child Safety on the Internet

The article below is from Edutopia, The George Lucas Educational Foundation. It provides sage advice for parents about internet safety for kids.

How do you teach your kids to be safe online?
My son, age 13, started going online with me while he was still a toddler. He would sit in my lap while I was doing searches and such. As he got older (5-6) and wanted to go online, I began talking with him about the Internet sites he wanted to visit and about what information he should share while online. Also, my husband and I chose to place our computers in the living room in plain view so we can monitor his online activities.

~Denise A. Garofalo, Mother of a 13-year-old boy, Newburgh, New York

As a parent, your job is to personalize the remote messages on Internet safety your kids hear in school, to make the subject important in your home and to your family. Print a weekly report of your child's online activity and look over this report with your child. Question him about any sites he visited that you are uncertain about. Talk about the activity that isn't in dispute with comments such as, "I see a lot of history sites. Is that because of your report on Alexander the Great?" Let him know you are aware of (and care about) what is going on in his life.

~Robin Scott, Mother of an 11-year-old boy, Birmingham, Alabama

No one can deny the presence of technology within our schools, our places of employment, and our homes. The 21st century has imposed technology as a mainstay within our society; now, we must examine how to facilitate a relationship between our youth and technology. How do we teach our children to be safe online? Although at first glance one may think that this is a difficult question to answer, it's actually quite simple: parenting.

First, we model our behavior online. Children's learned behaviors tend to mimic those of their parents or caregivers. If we use the Internet ourselves in a responsible way, we are modeling good behavior for our children. Second, parents must monitor their children while they are using the Internet. With parents present and involved, children can learn which places are safe and which are unsafe.

Just as we teach our children to practice caution before leaving the house and riding their bikes to explore the world, so, too, must we teach them to protect themselves in this 21st century, where technology is ever present.

~Atiera Ransavage, Educator and mother of a seven-year-old girl, Stockton Borough School, Stockton, New Jersey

I continuously tell my kids that they have to be careful with the words they choose when talking to friends online. I also tell them that any pictures and words they post on their Facebook or MySpace accounts can and will be used against them. If they wouldn't say it to their grandmother, then they shouldn't be saying it online to their friends. I have no tolerance for bullying (be it cyber or face-to-face).

What I have found in talking with my teenage son is that a lot of kids talk trash about one another online. Some do so in a joking, funny way, but others do it in a quasi-bullying fashion. As we know, things that start small can turn into big, ugly, hurtful situations for kids. My son was a victim of cyberbullying, and I nipped it in the bud.

Because we do communicate and ask questions and because my son does talk about things, we as parents were able to address this and resolve the problem before it escalated into something bigger.

In addition to using netiquette and being appropriate online, children have to screen their friend requests in Facebook. They need to know who is requesting them as a friend and why before they confirm someone as a friend.

Last, I tell them that there are online predators who know all the tricks to lure them in. The scary thing about the Internet is that people can take on different identities and become someone else!

We had a situation in out hometown in which two middle school girls were talking to a "boy" online. They became suspicious when the boy wanted to meet them at the local Domino's Pizza. The girls alerted the school administration, which then alerted the local authorities. The police and the FBI set up a sting. When the "boy" went to the Domino's to meet with the two girls, he was arrested on the spot. He was in fact a 28-year-old male who lived in town. Be cautious, and be careful!

~Lita Motroni, Parent of a boy in middle school and a boy in high school, Business and secondary school special educator, Scituate, Rhode Island

As a parent, I use a sophisticated proxy server named Integrity Online to filter search requests for my household of surfers. Between children, friends, and cousins, there are users ages 2-18 searching the Internet. Integrity Online has faithfully prevented many "oops" incidents for many years. This service is understanding enough to provide rapid review of requests so you can unblock legitimate sites that are being blocked.

As a public school teacher of information technology, I use a free, Web-based bookmarking utility called Portaportal. I teach more than 500 students annually, and we use the Internet for supporting research and developing digital art projects.

Long URLs are a problem for students to type in to get to the learning activity. Using Portaportal allows students to get to sites quickly so they can begin the lesson. Additionally, Portaportal minimizes the tendency of students to wander off into regions of the Internet that aren't approved, because they are clicking only on links preapproved by the teacher.

As a parent and a teacher, I actively educate my family and students on the need to be aware of the potential for good and evil on the Internet. We engage in regular and robust discussions about the places we visit on the Internet and the appropriate uses of technology.

~Michael W. Hurst, Rigler School, Portland, Oregon

Online safety has a lot to do with parent involvement. First, we allow Internet access only in public places such as the living room, the kitchen, or the family room. Second, online and email contracts between child and parent are vital. I received this idea from a friend who used it with her daughter, and now our oldest daughter (age 10) has signed one with us.

It not only opened doors to many discussions but also helped her understand the responsibility that came with this new-found "freedom." Included in the contract is the understanding that Mom and Dad will always have full access to any of her Web and email accounts. We access her accounts throughout the week and help her navigate through spam and email communications with friends while giving her guidance -- even when not asked.

~Kim Haugo, Library media specialist and mother of two girls, Osseo Area Schools, Maple Grove, Minnesota

Today's students have no fear about doing stuff on computers or online. Though this confidence can lead to safety issues, there's a lot to be said about being free to try and learn something new. Adults always taught me not to experiment with computers. They assumed that I would learn first what to do and then do it, which has led me to be incredibly cautious about everything to do with computers and stuff online.

~Stephanie Saez-Hamilton, Technology trainer, Hillsborough Schools, Tampa Bay, Florida

We are a new independent school for students who have learning-style differences such as dyslexia or Asperger's syndrome. All have at least average intelligence. We do have one alum who is now earning all A's at his high school.

That being said, our kids can find unauthorized sites quicker than lightning. Such sites are everywhere. We do have parental controls on, and we have a list of which sites they can access. However, the negative sites seem to be more colorful, engaging, and attractive than the approved ones. Some of them would make you ill.

Whatever you could do to make the educational world safer would be a tremendous boon to this community.

~Kathy Farrell, Head of school, Vista Preparatory School, Andover, Massachusetts

Teach them not to reply to people they do not know. Talk about possible scenarios that they might encounter online. And, most important, listen to your kids when they talk about their issues. Don't preach or try to fix problems, because sometimes they just need to talk about their feelings. If you don't listen to them, they will find someone who will.

~Linda Rowland, Teacher, Robert Louis Stevenson Middle School, St. Helena, California

It's simple -- micromanage their every move! No violent games, no pornography, no crap. My kids use the Internet for research on topics we discuss ahead of time, and then we go to relevant Web sites together.

Also, while you're at it, get that damn TV out of your kid's bedroom! I was a "good" kid, and I watched all kinds of garbage on TV when no one was looking. Peace!

~Craig Cooper, Assistant principal, Hazen High School, Renton, Washington