Keep your kids safe
Your parents worried that you watched too much TV. They never had to deal with IMs and MySpace.
(Money Magazine) -- Chances are, your child will spend most of his Net time instant messaging with the same kids he sees all day in school, doing homework, playing video games or finding other fans of his favorite obscure band.
But creeps are out there, and it's not just predators who want to use the Internet to get to know your kid. It's marketers too.
Consider a Web filter. Parental control software such as CyberPatrol ($40 for 12 months of updates), Cybersitter (a one-time payment of $40) and Safe Eyes ($50 for 12 months) can help you control what your kids see and do online, filtering out objectionable content and letting you block sites of your choosing. But parental control software often comes bundled with Internet-security software suites or may be provided by your ISP.
The new version of Windows due out early next year will also have filtering features. Whichever filter you pick, it will miss some bad stuff and screen out some good stuff, so get a trial download and spend some time surfing with it to see if it works for your family.
Teach your kid to value privacy. Even young children can grasp the basics of privacy. "Start by asking your child if there are things he wouldn't mind Mom or Dad knowing but wouldn't want the kid down the street to know," suggests privacy lawyer Parry Aftab, executive director of WiredSafety.org.
Your kids should understand that the Web is a very public place. That rude and crude blog that your daughter thinks only her friends read could come back to haunt her. "Two years later, search engines have a way of picking up these things," says Hemanshu Nigam, chief security officer of MySpace, the popular social-networking site where kids can set up Web pages and connect with other users.
Set firm family Web rules. These five are a good place to start.
1) You need my permission before entering personal info into a website.
2) Don't answer an e-mail or an instant message from a stranger or arrange to see anyone you first met online.
3) Don't lie about your age on any website, especially networking sites such as MySpace. (That's assuming you allow your kids to use these services. Check them out carefully before you do.)
4) Don't share information on a social-networking site that makes it easy for someone to find you in the real world.
5) Be careful with your photo. "When kids are posting photos of themselves, they are certainly increasing the chance that someone will try to contact them," says Michelle Collins of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (missingkids.com).
While you may decide that older teens can handle this risk, they should know that sexually suggestive photos and pictures that could be taken out of context are dangerous even when just shared with friends. "Get them to realize that everyone has a forward button," says Collins.
Check in. You're asking your kid to make a lot of careful decisions. He deserves some help. Ask him to show you his Web pages, blogs or profiles at networking sites. Collins suggests going through instant-messaging buddy lists and asking who each person is. If your child resists this kind of attention, remind him who pays the broadband bill.
Treat your PC like a TV. Yes, the Internet is a great tool for homework and research. But it's also an entertainment device and a very powerful tool for advertisers. Teenagers are legally fair game for all the forms of Web-use tracking and profiling that allow advertisers to target them based on their interests, obsessions and anxieties, says Kathryn Montgomery, an expert on children and media at American University.
Putting time limits on Web use will give your children mental and emotional breathing space. Keep the computer in the family room or living room. If you have a teenager who needs to write school reports in the quiet of her own room, buy a second computer with a good word processor but no Internet connection. Perfectly workable used laptops and old Macs are available for $100 or less on eBay. (Don't worry, your kid can help you with that.)
Sensible step for the slightly paranoid
You can spy on them if you need to. Some Web-filtering software can keep logs of the Internet traffic on your computer; dedicated monitoring programs that capture what your kid does online range in price from $30 to $100.
What you'll choose depends on how much spying you want to do and whether you want a program that runs without your child's knowledge (to compare software, go to kids.getnetwise.org/tools).
More from the Complete Layman's Guide to Cyber Safety:
Defend your computer: Some pretty bad folks are trying to break into your (virtual) home all the time. But you can make it a lot harder for them.
Thwart ID thieves: You can spend big bucks and drive yourself nuts listening to the hype. Or you can take a few sensible precautions.
Guard privacy at work: Everything your do at the office is an open book. Understand that and you can save yourself embarrassment. Or worse.