YouTube, Myspace, and Bored.com are just a few select websites that have children hooked on the computer. The endless variety of information and entertainment that the Internet offers far outweighs television and public libraries these days, and with summer still here, children are often on-line for longer periods without supervision.
This makes Internet safety an important issue to anyone who has children and a computer.
While many websites are child-friendly and offer parental information about where children travel on-line, there are still risks that many parents don't find acceptable.
Children can come into contact with sites that feature adult content, contain violence, illegal activities such as weapon making or gambling and sites monitored by sexual predators and other criminals.
One of the best tools a parent has, is their parenting skills. What's allowed in the home is what's allowed on-line.
Parents should learn all they can about the Internet and how it works. The goal is to educate the entire family about the opportunities and the dangers found on-line.
The education aspect is why most people own a computer. They can pay bills, track expenses and learn about any subject that they can think of. It can help a child with a project, from ideas to execution, and help develop computer-related skills.
A computer can put them in touch with others who share similar interests, or keep in touch with friends and family in a different way than calling or sending a letter.
The Indiana Sheriffs' Association has offered these helpful hints for keeping children safe while they "surf the net," including,
* Talk to children and make sure they understand that not everything they read or see on the Internet is true. People aren't always who they say they are, some may try to take advantage of a child,
* Spend time on-line with the children. See where they like to visit, and who they are talking with,
* Keep the computer in a family area. When a parent can cruise by at any time, kids are less likely to sneak into forbidden sites,
* Set time limits for use. Set limits on what sites can be accessed. Many programs have parental controls, use these to monitor children,
* Remember, children may be going on-line in other places, the library, a friends house or even cell phones,
* Keep the trust between parent and child,
* Make sure they know the rules. Caution them to never give out private information like their name, school, address, passwords, cell phone or regular phone number or credit card number,
* Don't allow children to make plans to meet with someone they met on-line without clearing it with the parents,
* Don't respond to anyone on-line that is rude, suggestive or obscene, and
* Don't let a child put pictures of themselves on-line.
There are warning signs that children may be involved with an on-line predator, including,
* Watch out, if children suddenly starts spending long periods of time on the computer, especially late at night,
* Be alert if they switch off the computer when anyone enters the room, or switches screens,
* Pay attention if children suddenly start receiving phone calls from people that parents don't know, or gifts in the mail. The same if they suddenly have extra money on hand, and
* If a child gets upset when they can't get on the computer or they start to withdraw from their family and friends, this may be a warning signal.
If on-line abuse is suspected, report it to authorities. Bullying, harassment and threats can also be reported.
The Internet can be a magical place to spend some time, for parents and children. When used safely, it can be a huge resource, likewise, it can be a large problem if used incorrectly. Following these rules and adding common sense can keep the family safe and enjoying the many conveniences that the Internet offers.