Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : August 2010

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TECHNOLOGY TALK

This generation of children is the first to grow up in an Internet society. Parents are challenged to help guide their kids and keep them safe in the virtual world containing pitfalls of which we ourselves may not even be aware. But don’t worry, the following tips will help you with strategies for safe computing, even if you aren’t an Internet guru.

ISL – Internet as a Second Language

I’m not asking you to start creating your own websites or anything like that, but if you don’t use a computer every day or know the ins and outs of social media websites you need to start building a new vocabulary. The best ways to start is to read articles, take a class and talk to other parents. Remember, you don’t have to be an expert – you just need to be speaking the same language. If you visit www.internetsafety101.org, you will find a list of Internet Safety Resources that will educate you about cyber bullying, online gaming, mobile devices, social networking and warning signs to keep your kids safe from Internet predators.

Protect Your Computer

We know we can’t watch our kids every minute of every day, and we hope that they’ll follow our advice and avoid violent games and inappropriate sites. For those times we can’t watch over their shoulder, we can have someone else do if for us – our mysterious guardian angel, Parental Controls.

There are built-in parental controls in Windows® that handle what times are right for your children to use the computer and what programs they can use. They will also restrict games on the computer based on the game’s ratings. Each person in the house should have a different profile that can be fine-tuned for what type of content to allow and what to block.

There is also third-party software dedicated to the task of controlling what content is displayed on your computer. These programs usually have more features and are easier to set up and manage. You might also consider using both options. Some products handle Internet-only content and others will manage what games and music are played while offline as well. Windows’s parental control will let you decide. It only takes a few minutes to set up parental control software that can block inappropriate websites, restrict the amount of time that your kids use the Internet and monitor their Instant Messenger chats to protect against predators. To find out which suits your needs best, you can find a list of products with ratings and prices at PC Magazine (www.pcmag.com) – just search for “Parental Control & Monitoring”.

If the software mistakenly blocks a site needed for a school project, or if your child runs out of computer time before running out of homework, many modern parental-control systems such as Safe Eyes (www.internetsafety.com) or WebWatcher (www.webwatchernow.com) let you view reports and change settings from any browser. They may even notify you by e-mail, phone, or text message when specific events occur, such as multiple attempts to reach blocked sites.

Helpful Tips

-Use kid-friendly search engines such as www.kidzui.com or www.dibdabdoo.com.

-Keep Internet-connected computers in an open area where you can easily monitor your kids’ activities.

-Sit with your kids when they are online, or make sure they only visit sites you have approved.

-Create a family e-mail account so that you and your child have the same e-mail address. This is much better than allowing your kids to have their own accounts.

-Your children should not post pictures or videos unless under close parental supervision.

For older children interested in more independent computer use, you should allow them more freedom, but insist on access and passwords to e-mail and instant messaging accounts; also, limit instant messaging to a parent-approved buddy list and spot-check Internet browser history.

You should talk to your teens and tweens about ethical online behavior. Discourage using the Internet to spread gossip, bully or make threats against others. Remind them that everything on the Internet is public and there is no telling where their messages will end up or how they will affect them in the future.

For older teens, it is worth talking to them about being responsible online in regard to file-sharing, and how taking text, images or artwork from the web may infringe upon copyright laws.

Internet Guidelines

Talk with your kids about the Internet – the good, the bad and the ugly. Show them the benefits and explain some of the dangers. Take an interest in their favorite websites, online games and other online activities. Many Internet-based games have parental controls that set limits on the messaging filters built into the game. If your kids do chat online, ask them who they are talking to and what they are talking about and let them know what topics are off limits.

After talking with your kids, help them remember what you talked about by posting your Internet guidelines near the family computer as a reminder.

InternetSafety.com has a Family Internet Safety Gameplan™ that covers all the important topics. It is an agreement that you and your child can review and sign together.

Some of the items covered include:

-Not giving out personal information such as name, address or phone number.

-Never meeting an online friend in person without talking to a parent.

-Immediately telling a parent about anything that feels uncomfortable.

-Being safe everywhere and follow the rules at school or at a friend’s house.

The best defense, as they say, is a good offense, and the best way to know what your kids are doing online is to do it with them. Taking an interest in their online games and activities will become another way you can grow closer as a family.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin : August 2010

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