This is the second in a series of articles about the importance of parents being aware of what their kids see and hear on the Internet, who they may meet in chat rooms, and what information they share about themselves online. Unfortunately, everyone trying to communicate with your child is as innocent as they may first seem.
There is a federal law, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), was created to help protect children online. It is designed to keep anyone from obtaining a child’s personal information without a parent’s knowing about it and agreeing to it first.
COPPA requires all websites to explain their privacy policies on the site as well as to get parental consent prior to collecting or using a child’s personal information, such as name, address, phone number or Social Security number. This law also prohibits a site from requiring a child to provide more personal information than needed to play a game or participate in a contest.
This law is great, but your child’s best online protection is you. Following is a list of suggestions as you take an active role in protecting your kids from Internet predators and sexually explicit materials online. You may want to print this to keep by your computer as a reminder for everyone in your family.
Keep the computer in a common area
Kids are less likely to go to prohibited sites or talk to strangers if they know a parent can see what they are doing either from where they are seated or by casually walking by and glimpsing at the screen.
Become computer literate and learn how to block objectionable material
It is essential for parents to understand the language of computers. This should include learning the meanings of abbreviations and acronyms used in chatrooms and online.
Share an email account with your child
This is not going to make you a popular parent, but this is about keeping your child safe, not being the most popular parent on the block. Sharing email accounts allows you to monitor your child’s messages.
Spend time online together to teach your kids appropriate online behavior
Like most things they learn while growing up, children learn best when we model the behavior we expect from them and do it consistently. This will also send a clear message that you know your way around the Internet.
Monitor your credit card and phone bills
If unexplained and unfamiliar charges begin showing up on your credit cards and/or phone bills, there’s a good chance your child is purchasing access to sites you may not sanction or are buying items which are not to your liking.
Take your child seriously if they report feeling uncomfortable
It is not unusual for your child to have an online exchange that makes them feel uncomfortable. Do not brush them off if they try to relay that to you. If the message happens to be obscene or threatening, you should forward them to your Internet service provider.
Bookmark your child’s favorite sites
This makes for easy access to the sites your child prefers. Having them bookmarked also makes it less likely there will be a missed keystroke that could lead your child to an unwanted website.
Forbid your child from entering private chat rooms
This can be done with safety features provided by your Internet service provider or with special filtering software. You and your child should be aware that posting messages to chat rooms reveals a user’s email address to others.
Report any child pornography about which you may become aware
Call the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at (800) 843 – 5678 if you become aware of the transmission, use or viewing of child pornography online. Contact your local law enforcement agency or the FBI if your child ever receives child pornography via the Internet.