Every parent worries about their children – will they be safe crossing the street, what's happening at school, why aren't they home yet? In the physical world, we do everything we can to find the right balance between caution and over-protectiveness. We put wood chips or other padding under the swing set, we don't take it away. And we stay with our children at the playground until they're old enough to look after themselves.
In the electronic world, we need to find that same balance. The internet is a wonderful opportunity to tap into new sources of knowledge and gain exposure to cultural experiences that we could not even imagine when we were children. Yet those same tools can also expose children to exploitation and harm. And unlike with the swing set, few of us grew up in this environment. We all understand how the swing set works and what could happen if you lose your grip – we're not so sure about the online risks.
The FBI has a Parent's Guide to Internet Safety which focuses on the risk of sexual exploitation and includes some factors to watch for in your child's behavior. You should also be very alert to phishes and other scams designed to steal your child's identity.
Protect your children by:
- Talking with them about the dangers. Explain phishing, spam and other scams. Don't assume that they're too young to understand the difference between good advertising and liars. But do explain it in terms they will understand.
- Teaching them to never share any personal information online even if they think they know who's on the other end of the line. And never, never, never agree to meet someone face-to-face that you met online.
- Keeping the computer in a common room in the house, not in the child's bedroom. Make sure that their time online is supervised.
- Using a parental controls program to reduce the chance that they'll end up somewhere inappropriate and always keeping your computer's anti-virus, anti-spyware, firewall and patches up-to-date and active.
- Checking their credit report regularly.