2004-10-29 / Columnists

Notes On Consumer Affairs

By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer

Audrey Pheffer
Audrey Pheffer The prevalence of the Internet is almost impossible to ignore; people are keeping in touch with friends and family through e-mail and instant messaging services, and managing finances by paying bills, monitoring their accounts, and even purchasing stocks using

the Internet. People often choose to do their research, travel planning, or even their holiday shopping online. While there is little question about the usefulness of the Internet, there is a growing concern about the dangers it may pose to children.

Fortunately, there are a number of precautions that can be taken by both parents and children that can help ensure that children’s online time is both safe and productive.

The first step that may be taken is to set ground rules with your child regarding Internet use. It is extremely important that your child is warned against divulging personal information while online. Instruct them to not give out their name, address, phone number, e-mail address, school name or school address, or daily schedule to people they do not know while online. They should never agree to a face-to-face meeting with anyone they have met on the Internet without parental consent.

If they want to meet with someone, it should be in a public place with parental supervision. It is also a good idea to keep the computer in a family room as opposed to the child’s bedroom. This helps to monitor not only the amount of time that your child is spending online, but also what they are doing while online.

If your child receives inappropriate material while online, or if someone is harassing them or displaying other questionable behavior, tell them to not respond and to inform you. For more information on reporting such an incident, visit www.safekids.com. If the behavior seems very suspect or dangerous, you may want to report it to the local police.

If you are concerned about protecting your child from obscene, graphic, or violent material that they may encounter on the Internet, there are several options available. Many Internet service providers offer parental controls that allow parents to set restrictions. For more information, contact your Internet service provider. Similarly, many e-mail services offer custom filters that prevent certain identified e-mails from entering your child’s inbox.

Additionally, there are software programs available that help parents protect their child while online.

Such software is divided into two main categories: monitoring software and filtering software. Monitoring software can record e-mails, instant messages, chat room conversations, and websites visited, in addition to other information.

Some monitoring programs are capable of sending this information to remote computers, enabling parents to monitor their child’s Internet activities from their office.

Filtering software can block certain sites and emails, prohibit your child from revealing personal information online, and limit the amount of time spent online.

More information about these software programs can be found at www. soft are 4parents.com.

There are resources available if you are interested in learning more about Internet safety.

Your Internet service provider should be able to provide you with information about parental controls that they offer. Also consider contacting your child’s librarian or teacher, or visit www.safekids.com, www. safe teens.com, or www.cyber angels. com for more tips and information.

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