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Although using the Internet can be fun and interesting, there are several security and safety issues that need to be considered when online. The intention of this section is to provide you with the information necessary to prevent students from harm. The Internet is a network of computers but also a way for people to interact with each other. Behind each computer there is a human being.
Parents need to realize that the Internet can be a way for your children to reach inappropriate material or participate in conversations and get in contact with people with different sets of values and ethics than yours. It is your responsibility to create the safe environment that your children need when online.
Your children should:
Viruses are programs that can do damage to your computer. They are pieces of programming code which may hide inside other programs and be transmitted from computer to computer by way of a disk or a downloaded file. Like the kinds of viruses humans catch, they can be contagious, insidious, destructive, and hard to get rid of.
Viruses can activate themselves any time the computer is turned on, and can do damaging things like erasing all or part of your hard drive, formatting floppy disks or hard drives, transmitting information over the Internet to their creator, or interfering with normal operations of the computer. The best way to get rid of viruses is to run a virus scan program from a CD-ROM (that is, with the scan program still on the CD-ROM so that it cannot be interfered with).
It is possible to help prevent viruses. You can download or buy virus-protection software which scans incoming files and disks for known viruses or suspicious code. Using software like this that scans continuously is very effective in preventing "infections" -- but always download the latest version as soon as it becomes available! Some programs, like F-Prot, will tell you when they think you should upgrade. This does not mean there is a new version, because the program doesn't know, but it means that it has been a while since the old version was released, and it's a good idea to check.
You may wish to limit your children's exposure to certain topics on which information is available by way of the web. There is material that is not appropriate for children, and you may not wish them to stumble across some of it, just as you might keep your six-year-old from watching R-rated movies. You may also reasonably be worried about your children finding advice on the web that goes against the morals or ethics you as parents try to teach them, is criminal in nature or purpose, or is outright dangerous to their health. This is no different from other media; we remember examples of magazines aimed at preteen girls giving makeup tips which sounded reasonable but could lead to poisoning. However, it is somewhat harder to know what your child has seen on the Internet than what magazines she reads.
One good thing you can do is be with your child when he is exploring the Internet. This is not always possible; it takes a lot of your time and may leave older children feeling suffocated. Older children can often be trusted to uphold family morals as well as you could, but your common sense helps them sift materials, and an occasional guiding hand is a good thing.
Perhaps you allow your children to explore the Internet while you are not around, and want them to be able to wander with gentle barriers that do not allow them to wander into dangerous areas. Playgrounds have fences; you may have put up "gates" at the top of stairwells when your children were toddlers. These same kind of "for-their-own-good" barriers can be erected on the Internet via filtering or blocking software. The equivalent of a baby monitor also exists (although it is more a baby tape-recorder), so that you may, for example, watch after the fact what happened in a chat room that day, perhaps catching a person who is tricking your child into trusting them more than they should.
Several types of protective software are available:
Keyword removal works very well for expletives, but tends to mangle the meaning of certain types of statements, sometimes in the diametrical opposite of the intended manner. An example given by Peacefire (http://www.peacefire.org/): "Gary Bauer is a staunch anti-homosexual conservative who sees the gay movement as absolutely pure fascism and thinks that movies of men with men are the greatest terror." is shown under this CyberSitter function as "Gary Bauer is a staunch anti-conservative who sees the gay movement as absolutely pure and thinks that movies of men with men are the greatest." No information was available on whether the more-configurable alternatives, like Net Nanny, had such odd side effects. Net Nanny does claim to have eliminated the problem with incidentally blocking recipes for chicken breasts, the newspapers of Middlesex and such.
Blocking lists are not usually editable, and often, especially in the case of CyberSitter, are overzealous in blocking sites. Some blacklisted sites are not sites parents would consider offensive. CyberSitter in particular tries to apply a certain moral code which may or may not be the same as your family's. Some feminist sites such as the National Organization for Women are blocked, for example. Both CyberSitter and CyberPatrol have some problems with blocking more of a domain than is necessary, and accidentally not allowing some perfectly good sites. On the other hand, we did find one filtering/blocking program, WizGuard, which erred on the side of under-zealousness (blocking only pornography) and allowed the parent to input (in plain-text under password protection) their own personal list of sites they wished to block. Third-party lists could also be used.
The use of blocking, filtering, and especially snooping software can encourage distrust rather than trust within your family. With well-meaning kids who agree the software should be there (which is definitely possible with limited blocking software), these measures are effective. However, once a child perceives a lack of your trust in them, they may become frustrated and earn that distrust by going around any restriction you put in place. It is possible to circumvent any security program that can be put in place, with more or less ease on the part of the child. Some, such as SmartAlex ICU, force them to go to a lot of trouble if they want to make it not obviously "hacked". That does not keep them from doing so, or even blatantly disabling it. It is difficult to keep passwords away from children; they can usually guess or locate them. The climate of distrust can only get worse and worse. We suggest two rules of thumb. For younger children, do not put any software in place that you cannot explain to them so that they agree it is for their own good. Remember also that they will outgrow this software! If they want more freedom, they need to know you will respect their wishes. This does not mean that you give it to them, but discuss or consider it, and give them a reason for any refusal. For older children and teens, do not use any software on them that places restrictions you cannot live under. If there is a filter you want them to use, use it yourself. They will respect it a lot more.
Communication Tools | Safety | Conclusion | Resources for Parents
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