Internet Safety

Keeping Children Safe Online

6 Comments 03 February 2009

As the mother of two preteen boys who inherited my love of the internet, one of my big concerns is keeping my family safe online.

J, my 5 year old, loves playing games online, especially on PBS Kids and Yahoo Kids. Unfortunately, both of those sites have sections where you have to sign up to participate, and to a 5 year old, the sections you can’t get in always look like more fun.

W, my 10 year old, knows better than to join sites we haven’t approved yet, but 10 is a very social age and he loves talking with his friends…and with new friends online.

So for both boys, we have created three simple rules that they have to obey if they want to be online.

1) Never give your last name. This was one of the first rules I was taught when I first tried the internet and discovered MSN’s chat rooms, and it’s just as true now. For children under 13 especially, they should never give their last name online, even when registering for a new site. When a site asks for a last name, I’ll tell the boys to put in the initial or first 2 letters of our last name (some sites won’t accept 1 letter as an answer).

2) Keep your birth year secret. There are legitimate reasons why some sites need to know approximately how old you are, usually to make sure you’re old enough or young enough to be on that particular site. BUT giving away your full birthday information can make you vulnerable to identity theft. No, I’m not worried about someone stealing J’s identity right now. But how long will that site keep his information? I prefer to play it safe now so the boys don’t have to worry about it later.

3) Never give out our home address or phone number. This one sometimes seems like it should go without saying if you’re an adult. But children tend to view the world as a friendly place, especially when they think they’re interacting with other children.

Finally, both boys know they can ask us if they’re not sure about something, or think they may have a reason for us to make an exception to a rule.

How about you? What steps do you use to keep your family safe online?

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6 Comments so far

  1. Shmully says:

    These are fantastic rules not only for children but for adults too. I have shown friends (sarah palin) how they have left themselves open to be victimized…it is too easy.

    Another thing I would add is that the kids should always ask the parent if they have any questions. Learning to err on the side of caution with regard to the internet is going to only help in the long run.

  2. nthused says:

    Well done. We also make sure our computers are used in our main room (living room right now) and we’re routing traffic through a service called OpenDNS. Highly custumizable, OpenDNS filters sites visited. Set it up on your router and your whole house is easily controlled. It’s not perfect - but it’s another tool in your belt.

  3. Teeg says:

    Thanks Shmully! For adults, I usually add one or two more rules, most notably to always at least scan the TOC before you register for a site so you know what they’re going to do with your info and to make sure and remove your info whenever you quit using a site. If you’re interested, here is an article I wrote last year that goes into more details. :)

  4. Teeg says:

    Nthused, thank you! I love the idea of using my router to help protect everyone. That makes it much easier than having to reset up everything every time you get a new computer…and I’d imagine offers more protection than having the security set up on individual computers. I’ll definitely be checking it out! :)

  5. Angel says:

    Just wanted to say Kudos!! As a mother of a toddler, I don’t look forward to the day when I have to start monitoring his internet usage. I know it’s coming. Lots of great ideas and it’s so important to watch what our kids are doing online. I’ll be ready when my time comes!! Good Luck to all,

    Diego Norte

  6. Parental involvement is the biggest factor in keeping kids safe online, IMHO. I think we sometimes cede the terrain to our kids because “they do this all the time.” We, as parents, need to be more savvy so that we can raise digitally savvy young adults.

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