October 17, 2007

Take Back the Internet

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Find more about tough talks, safety, healthy fun

Our house was in a state that could only be described as "too quiet." Mommy-radar engaged, I took a quick stroll around the house to look for Julia, 9, and Henry, 7. When I found them, their eyes were locked on the computer screen and Julia was typing madly. The minute they saw me, their expressions revealed that they were not involved in one of our "approved" computer activities.

Through pointed questions, I learned that Julia has heard at school about some inappropriate pictures of one of her teen idols and was using Google to search the Internet for them. Scrolling through their searches, I breathed a huge sigh of relief (and thanked the spelling gods) — she'd spelled nude "newed" and therefore didn't get to any dangerous web sites.

My relief was short-lived as it sunk in that their computer usage had gotten away from us and that by letting our guard down we'd put our children in danger.

I considered grounding them from the computer forever, but ended up settling on two weeks. This situation called for some sound parental policy and I needed time to consult other parents and experts at our school to learn more about Internet safety.

The good news is that helpful information and savvy software exist to help us navigate this new and treacherous world. When my husband and I finished our research, we instituted a series of computer-related changes in our house. Here are our recommendations:

  • Place your computer in a more central location.

  • Create a list of approved Internet sites the kids can visit.

  • Regularly check the history to see what sites they're visiting so you can keep an open dialogue about what they read and see on the Internet.

  • Explain that the Web isn't always safe and discuss how information on the Web isn't always true or real.

  • Go over a new set of computer usage rules — never give any personal information such as, name, address, age, phone, never click on pop-ups, never enter contests or any answer questions.

  • Install NetNanny software, an Internet filter software that gives us the ability to control content displayed, block websites and set up passwords. (For more information on Internet filters go to: http://internet-filter-review.toptenreviews.com/)

  • Update virus, adware, and spyware protection.

    Even though I still feel nervous when they're on their computer, I know that Julia and Henry are far safer now than they were two weeks ago.

    How do you keep your kids safe on the Internet? Click the comments link below to find and share ideas.

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