BY RICK VOAKES, MD
Internet Use and Your Family
The Internet is a network that connects people and information all over the world through their computers. Search tools on your computer allow you to find information, music, people, products, and all sorts of things. The Internet is a great tool for children and adults to learn about the world and find out all sorts of information.
However, much of the information and content on the Internet is not reliable, and may even present a danger to children and vulnerable adults. Children might be vulnerable to sexual predators, inappropriate content on web pages, and fraudulent scams. Read below to make sure your family gets the most out of the Internet while minimizing the risks.
1. What you type on your computer while you are online automatically becomes public information. You cannot keep secrets on the Internet! When you type anything online it is transmitted to "servers" all over the worldand copied millions of times. Your email has literally millions of opportunities to be intercepted and read by someone else!
2. People online are not always who they say they are. Children can be easy prey to sexual predators who communicate through chat rooms. There is no reason for a child or teen to chat online with anyone who they don't know personally. This should be a strict rule.
3. Anyone can put information on the Internet. This means that some of the information may be coming from criminals, con artists, or even just from people who think they know everything but are actually poorly informed. Bottom line: you can't trust everything you read on the Internet.
4. The information on the Internet is not well organized, and you might stumble on material that is offensive, pornographic, obscene, violent, or racist. This is why younger children need to be monitored while surfing the Internet.
The Internet is so vast and interesting that it can be addicting in a way. Surfing the Internet should not take the place of other important activities such as homework, playing outside, physical activities, and spending time with friends. This goes for adults too. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting total screen time (including TV, video games, and Internet) to less than 2 hours a day. A digital timer might help you keep track of the total time spent.
Here are some rules to teach your children. Let them know that these rules are meant to protect them.
NEVER give out personal information. This includes your name, address, phone number, age, race, school name or location, or friend's names or other personal information of theirs.
NEVER share passwords, even with friends.
NEVER meet with someone from the Internet that you don't already know. (Adults sometimes meet other people online, but even then, you should be very careful about a first meeting. Make sure you bring a friend, and meet in a public place.)
NEVER respond to messages that hurt your feelings or make you feel uncomfortable. Do not write back. Tell a parent right away.
NEVER send mean messages online. Bullying is wrong, whether in person or online.
NEVER use the Internet to harm another person.
NEVER write email from another person's address pretending to be them. This could get both of you in big trouble!
NEVER plagiarize. It's illegal to copy information from the Internet (or anywhere else) and say that you wrote it. It's OK to use that information (for example, in a school project) and give credit to the person who really wrote it.
Sexting is the act of posting or re-posting sexually explicit photos, which may be, and often are, posted without the permission or knowledge of the person in the photo. Teens are more and more likely to send sexual photos of themselves in order to impress their friends. But it is highly likely that the photos will be sent on to others as a re-post. A recent study of high school kids revealed that 14% of kids are sending sext messages, and 27% were receiving them. About 12% had received a sext that was re-posted without the permission of the original sender. The practice of sexting is becoming increasingly popular, with about half of young adults participating. But kids (and adults) must remain aware that whatever they post to the internet, has a reasonable possibility of“going viral”, no matter how much they trust the person they are sending it to.
There are several organizations dedicated to protecting children from harm they might encounter on the internet. The CyberTipline coordinates many of these, and you can reach them through the CyberTipline atwww.CyberTipline.com.
Another great website is NetSmartz atwww.netsmartz.org, which also has lots of other very useful information about health and other topics.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends these additional ways to safeguard your children's internet experience:
1. Surf the web with your children.
2. Put the computer in a room where you can monitor your children. Computers should never be placed in a room where a door can be closed and a parent excluded.
3. Use tracking software. It's a simple way to keep track of where your children have been on the web. However, nothing can replace supervision.
4. Install software or services that can filter or block offensive websites and material. Be aware however, that children are smart enough to find ways around the filters. Also, you may find that the filters may be more restrictive than you want.
5. Find out what the internet use policies are at your child's school or library.
Surfing the Net
Using a search engine such as Yahoo or Google can find thousands of web sites on just about any subject. Remember that anyone can put information on the internet, and not all of it is reliable. There is lots of printed material that is totally false information, and the internet is far less reliable than paper print. Some sites actually give false information on purpose. Others may give false information to further their cause, and they don't verify the information since they want to believe that it is true.
If you start your search with known reliable sites, this will give you basic information to build on. If other sites contradict that information, be very suspicious. Be sure to check the Health-byte about"voodoo science"to find out the warning signs of false information.
Source: "The Internet and Your Family", a publication of the American Academy of Pediatrics.