Nowadays, kids are growing up in the real world and in the cyber world.
Parents have a firm grasp of how to protect their sons and daughters in the real world. Don't take candy from strangers, be home before dark, look both ways before crossing the street and buckle your seatbelt are some of the many rules parents instill in a child.
When it comes to the Internet, it's an entirely new ballgame. But keeping one's child safe online is just as important as keeping them safe in the community.
That's why it's important to be proactive when it comes to the Internet where many teens have an edge over the parents.
There's a lot to take in. Cyber bullying, cyber stalking, chatting, identity theft, pornography and sexting are just some of the categories that parents, as well as teens, should be aware of when it comes to surfing the Web.
One of the best methods to ensure a child is having a safe Internet experience is to become involved with his or her computer habits.
The best place to put a family computer is in a room that is frequently visited. Avoid placing a computer in the bedroom and try to pick a better spot like in the living or family room. This allows parents, grandparents or babysitters to keep an eye on a child's online activity easier.
Also, become involved with a child's online experience. If a child is a pre-teen, ask what his or her favorite websites are while surfing. For teenagers, parents can possibly register a social networking account like Facebook or MySpace and even (gasp) request to befriend their child.
Some parents make it a rule while others give the befriending option to their kid. After all, teenagers' social networking accounts are like their rooms most don't want their parents snooping around in them. But, even by joining, a parent or family member can learn the ropes and know what goes on with sites that share personal information, photographs and videos.
For the youngsters, parents can take advantage of the parental controls on Microsoft Windows or Apple's OSX. In Windows Vista, parents can visit the Control Panel and set up the controls under the User Accounts and Family Safety option. From here, a user can determine what programs are available, limit the time available on the computer and set up an activity report for an adult to review.
Some older operating systems, like Windows XP, do not have a parental controls option, so third-party child protection software can be purchased. NetNanny is a solid choice for a parental control program. And on the Mac side, similar features that limit and log websites, chats and software used are also available.
Learning the Lingo
AWHFY? Shorthand writing is the staple of text and instant messaging. By the way, AWHFY stands for "are we having fun yet?"
There's the common laugh out loud (LOL), be right back (BRB) and talk to you later (TTYL). But there's also clever ones like MOS which means mom over shoulder and risque ones as well. There are hundreds of terms.
But a good tactic would be to keep an eye on a child's texting or instant messaging habits and if an unknown acronym appears, check out the NetLingo.com Web site. There is a plethora of terms listed including newly added expressions (sexting) and the top 50 acronyms all parents should know.
Staying in the know
There are many helpful websites out there that are dedicated to providing a wealth of information for parents, guardians and teachers. Printable brochures, flyers, booklets and online safety pledges are distributed free on various sites that can help parents talk about issues on the Internet.
Little kids love games, so many sites incorporate safety games and quizzes for the preteen child. NetSmartzKids.org offers interactive activities and games for children to play and learn some safety tips. For Disney fans, Surf Swell Island, (disney.go.com/surfswell/) takes kids on an adventure challenge to learn privacy tips, viruses and netiquette (Internet etiquette).
For overall support of online safety, parents can visit the non-profit safety education site iSafe.org. They have a great i-LEARN tutorial modules for parents. The online training course covers many safety topics.
For a quick and easy guide, head over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's "A Parents Guide to Internet Safety" at their www.fbi.gov/publications/pguide/pguidee.htm website. All on one page, the FBI furnishes information like signs that a child may be at risk online, frequently asked questions and tips on minimizing online risks.
Last, over at WiredSafety.org, they are promoting tips on how to handle sexting, cyber laws and cyber crimes. The site also provides links to online safety in the news, social networking safety, cyber bullying and harassment, privacy, security and several more helpful topics.
Putting it all together
There's a lot to take in, especially if a parent or guardian is not computer literate. But with some help from a variety of sources, becoming educated about the safety issues on the Internet is not impossible. As the saying goes, especially for a loved one like a child, it's better to be safe than sorry.
By becoming active, taking control and staying atop the latest Internet safety issues, parents, grandparent and guardians can become just as confident in teaching the rights and wrongs on the Web as they do in real life.
(Michael D. McElwain is a technology writer and can be reached on Twitter via @mdmcelwain or at his firstname.lastname@example.org e-mail address.)