19 September 2002

A Parent's Guide to the Online World


Being Concerned About Children on the Internet

Every year, more and more children from across the country head online. Although the Internet is an information tool that can educate and entertain there are also major safety concerns. Parents should take the time to educate themselves and their children about Internet safety.

The fact is, parents should and must take a role in their child's Internet activities. Surfing the net is similar to any other activity. The Internet presents risks and dangers, just like riding a bike. There are several things parents can do to make the Internet safer for their children. A couple of years ago, the Internet was just beginning and teenagers and adults made up the majority of surfers, but now the age when users start to use the Internet has dropped, which means that younger kids can be found online.

When children are first starting out, it's important for parents go talk to them. Here are a couple of things you can do to encourage safe Internet use:

  • set basic rules: decide how long your kids can be online, what sites they can visit or what types of activities they can engage in.
  • emphasize trust: teach them that not everyone can be trusted and things like age, addresses and phone numbers cannot be given out
  • show and tell: have kids show you what they enjoy doing online early on and discuss their Internet experiences with them (start this young so it continues when they get older)
  • computer location: put the computer in a family room such as the den or the kitchen. It's recommended that you don't put the computer in your child's bedroom so that you have a better awareness of their activities.
  • encourage questioning: a lot of things online are not as they seem and this anonymous world can be full of lies and manipulation. Motivate your children to doubt and scrutinize things online.
  • keep things in perspective: remind your kids that although the Internet has plenty of dangers lurking, there is plenty of useful and helpful information out there for them.

As Media Awareness Network education specialist Cathy Wing says, “Kids use the Internet mainly for entertainment purposes. They play games, instant message…and quite often they start losing track of time.” The key is to have a set of rules on what they can do and cannot do and enforce these rules. Using the Internet is just like any other household activity such as watching TV. There have to be limits and these limits must be set by the parents.

When you're dealing with teens, the tables turn and managing Internet use is a little different. Instead of supervising the young person's activities, the goal is to establish an open line of communication. As Mrs. Wing adds, “Good supervision when they're young, and good communication when they're old.” Monitoring a youth's Internet activities is simply not going to happen. Youth do not need to be babied; they need to see that you trust them.

All of the guidelines above apply but teenagers do not want, and often do not need, their parents looking over their shoulders. A dialogue with your teens about what they're doing online should be fine.

Parents lack knowledge about their child's activities in a certain respect: the tools that their children are using online. The Internet is more than a simple computer tool. We've included the basic Internet tools which kids are using today:

Instant Messengers:

• ICQ, MSN, Yahoo! and several other companies provide instant messengers which allow your kids to communicate in real-time with friends and strangers around the world. Basically, if your children are using the program, everyone else on their list who's online will be able to instantly talk to them one on one. Most kids talk to their school friends using this software but many also talk to strangers. The key here is to be aware of who's on your child's contact list.


• chatrooms are found everywhere online and range from moderated rooms to rooms where anything can be discussed. Children and youth tend to go in unmoderated “teen” rooms. Often, chatroom conversations lack substance and are a waste of time. The pivotal idea here is to make sure that if your kids are participating in worthwhile chats. There are filtered and monitored chats on a daily basis dealing with specific topics. These are the more useful chats in which to participate.

Message Boards and Online Communities:

• message boards and online communities are geared towards reaching people with a common interest. You can find communities catering to health, education, hobbies, musical interests, celebrities, and much more. This venue typically attracts people of all ages and backgrounds, but the conversations are usually limited to the topic of the boards.

Online Diaries:

• Diaries are one of the newest and hippest additions to the Internet. They allow you to share your online log with the world. Other people can read your diary entries and leave messages for you. The concern here is that some people share there entire personal life on the Internet. Sure, it's nice to get some support when you've had a bad day, but support from an online message is very different from the personal support of friends or family. The other concern is that too much personal information will be disclosed such as home town, school, friends' names, family information and addresses. It's recommended that you be very wary of this Internet tool.

The Internet is a valuable tool to Canadian adults, youth, and children. It has plenty of useful information and many online services that are of major benefit. There are, however, plenty of risks, like any other activity, that go along with this product. If children and youth use the Internet properly with parental supervision and/or communication, the Internet proves to be a valuable information tool. There is just a need for more precautions and awareness. It will make the Internet a safer place for all.

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