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Internet Safe for Your Kids

Unfortunately, news reporters seem to know very little about violent video games or the Internet, because they keep delivering the same basic story: the Internet is bad, video games are bad. But they don't seem to understand that the Internet can be very safe, with the proper precautions and supervision.

The Internet is NOT television. The Internet is more like a city street; there are many shady people that would love to take your child's money, or worse. Many children are trusting of strangers, and children are always influenced by new ideas -- how can you police their interactions so you make sure that they're not conversing with a maniac?

In this article you'll find out:

  • If the Internet is safe for kids
  • How to protect your child from shady characters
  • How to block them from visiting inappropriate sites
  • The skinny on violence on the Internet and in video games
How Do I Know
Hate Sites
Chat Rooms
Is the Internet SAFE
Childrens personal information
Child's favourite web sites
Personal meetings
Make the PC a family tool
Guard your child's e-mail
Blocking and Filtering Software
Violence in Video Games
The Verdict
Other Software

How Do I Know?

Much of my teen years were spent in front of a computer -- even in the days before the Internet, a teenager could use a PC and modem to access all kinds of information. Remember the movie "WarGames"? Well, I wasn't that bad, but I was amazed at what a kid could see and do, all without regard for age. Fortunately, my parents had instilled some taste and common sense into my brain, so I managed to avoid the truly tasteless things I suddenly had free access to.

The same went for video games. Frankly, I enjoy some of the violent video games -- some of them are fun, others not. However, these graphically violent games did not exist when I was younger. The early Atari, Commadore and Nintendo games I played were wholesome fun.

If my experiences have taught me anything, it is that a child with a computer can have virtually limitless access to all kinds of vulgar material, whether it be violent or pornographic. But this same child also has access to a wealth of information to advance their intelligence, and after all, that knowledge has helped me to a successful career and also to start this web site.

Online Dangers

On search engines like Yahoo and Altavista, the top five words most commonly searched for are pornographic in nature. That statistic alone shows you how much pornographic material is open to the public, even minors. There are literally hundreds of thousands of web sites that are devoted to pornography.

There are laws that require these sites to determine if the viewer is over 18 years of age, so the law-abiding sites will require a credit card check. However, many pornographic sites are hosted outside of the United States, thus avoiding the law and providing extremely graphic material to anyone who ventures to their web page. Even worse, some sites use trickery to induce new members to their pornography pages: a child who mistakenly enters www.whitehouse.com instead of the real address, www.whitehouse.gov will get an eyeful of XXX-rated material.

Hate Sites
Nazis, the KKK, Black Supremacists: they're all on the Internet, and they would love to recruit your child as a new member. The Internet is an excellent forum for disgruntled people to voice their views without debate -- they just put up a web page. You need to make sure your kids aren't unduly influenced by these monsters.

Chat Rooms
The majority of chat rooms are great, filled with reasonable people who interested in chatting about normal subjects. However, some chat rooms are filled with pedophiles. These monsters might claim to be a 12-year old girl, and your child may believe them since they have no way of knowing whether their new friend is a young girl or perverted old man.

Enough of this chatter. Is the Internet SAFE?

My years of experience say Yes. It all comes down to guidance and supervision. Think of the Internet as a city street. You wouldn't let your child walk unattended into the seedy section of the city, would you? Young children should be with their parents at all times in the city, and the same goes for the Internet. At the very least, you should be aware what neighborhoods your child wanders in to.

1) Never let your children give out personal information

Children should not divulge their name, phone number, or street address to ANYONE they meet online. Make it a family rule. Also, make sure that you do not give them an e-mail address that resembles their full name, i.e. oscarsodani@aol.com

2) Know your child's favourite web sites!

This is VERY important. If you don't know what sites they are visiting, find out. Surf along with them, offer advice. Talk about any information that confuses them. Let them know what kind of material you find inappropriate and impermissible for them to see.

3) Never allow personal meetings

Personal meetings between two people who meet on the Internet is NEVER good. When one is a child, disaster usually strikes. Disallow all personal meetings. Remember, it is very easy for a 40-year old pedophile to masquerade as a young child for long periods of time. If your child is developing a wonderful friendship with an online persona, insist that the friendship move to the telephone, and have a talk with the other child's parents.

4) Make the PC a family tool

To promote family use of the PC and the Internet, consider keeping the computer in the family room. If the computer resides in a child's bedroom, they will have more privacy to explore inappropriate materials online. A family room keeps family interaction and supervision at a maximum.

5) Guard your child's e-mail

Kids can be extremely vulnerable through e-mail. The first rule is to never reply to obscene or threatening e-mail messages. By ignoring these people and deleting the e-mail they send you, you are effectively cutting off all communication with them. If you reply, they will just send you more junk.

If you have a young child, share the e-mail account with them. Monitor their mail and make sure you know who they're communicating with.

6) Use Blocking and Filtering Software

There is software you can buy that will help you protect your children. One type is Web-blocking software, which works with your current web browser to block out sites that are deemed inappropriate for children. The list of inappropriate sites is updated constantly by the software company, so there is minimal effort that needs to be put in by the parent. However, this is no substitute for surfing the Internet WITH your child.

Filtering software works with your e-mail software to filter out any messages from "unauthorized" people. For instance, you can authorize family and friends to send e-mail to your child, and anyone else who tries will get their e-mail bounced back to them.

See the Related Links section at the end of the article for links to vendors of these programs.

AOL Users

America Online provides special parental controls that can be set to block your child from certain online areas. Go to keyword: "parental controls" to learn more.

Violence in Video Games

In recent TV coverage, the news media often showed video footage from the video game "Doom". While "Doom" is a valid example of how games have become violent, the game itself is quite old in video game years. It's comparable to holding up "Jaws" as an example of today's violent films.

Other violent video games far exceeds the violence in Doom. There are publicly available games where you score points by running over civilians with your car (Carmageddon/Carmageddon 2), extorting money and harassing small business owners (Gangsters), and even by killing innocent civilians execution-style (Postal). Some games will let you chop off people's limbs and beat them with it!

These games are disgusting, and I wouldn't let my child anywhere near them. It is the responsibility of the parent/guardian to exercise control over what games your kids are playing. Check the hard drives of the computer your child is using for violent-sounding games. Look at the game magazines your kids subscribe to: you'd be amazed at the sex and violence marketed to kids within those pages.

Today's video games also adhere to a rating system, but it is still very easy for young kids to buy these games without any interference from vendors whose only interest is the almighty dollar. Watch what they buy, watch what they play. There are plenty of great games out there that don't involve ANY overly-graphic violence (sports games, flight games, puzzle games, etc).

The Verdict

The Internet is going to be a BIG part of your kids' lives. They're going to learn about it quickly and they will absorb the information they find even more quickly. It is a parent's responsibility to understand what their children are doing online. We at Rookies will try to help in whatever way we can and provide new information when it becomes available.

Other Software

Happy and safe surfing

---- Rookie

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