County Commonwealth's Attorney's office would like to offer some tips
on how to have a safe and pleasant internet experience.
HOW YOU CAN REDUCE THE RISKS
GUIDELINES FOR PARENTS OR GUARDIANS
Parents need to be aware that
children can go online from their computer at home, at a friend's
house, in school, at the public library, at a club, at an internet
cafe, and from any number of different handheld communication devices
from laptop computers to cell phones. Many game consoles can
also be connected to the internet and be used for chatting and other
online interactions. In other words, children do not have to be
in the company of responsible adults to use the internet.
no censors on the internet. Anyone in the world - companies,
governments, individuals, and organizations - good and bad,
responsible and irresponsible - can publish material on the internet.
Your computer and Internet Service Provider (ISP) links you to these
sites, but cannot fully control or censor what is on them. Most people who go
online have mainly positive experiences, but, like any other endeavor,
there are some risks involved and some annoyances. The online
world, like the rest of society, is made up of a wide array of people.
Most are decent and respectful, but some may be rude, obnoxious,
insulting, or even mean and exploitive. Children get a lot of
benefits from being online, but they can also be targets of crime,
exploitation and harassment in this as in any other environment.
Children and teenagers need supervision and common sense advice to
make sure that their experience in cyberspace is happy, healthy and
There are real risks involved for
children, and especially teenagers, who use the internet unsupervised.
Teens are more likely to participate in online discussions regarding
companionship or sexual activity. Some specific risks include:
- Exposure to inappropriate material.
- Your child may be accidentally exposed to material considered
to be sexual, hateful, violent, or material encouraging illegal or
dangerous activities. Some children may intentionally seek
out such material, but all could come across it on the web, in
chat rooms, in email, or even instant messaging.
- Physical molestation.
- Your child might provide information or arrange an encounter
or meeting possibly risking his or her safety or the safety of
other family members. In some cases child molesters have
used chat areas, email, and instant messaging to gain a child's
confidence and then arrange a face-to-face meeting.
- Harassment and bullying.
- Your child might encounter messages via chats, email, or their
cell phones that are belligerent, demeaning, or harassing.
Bullies, typically other young people, often use the internet to
bother their victims.
- Legal and financial.
- Your child could do something that has negative legal or
financial consequences, such as giving out a family member's
credit card number or doing something that may violate another
person's rights. Legal issues aside, children should be
taught good netiquette, which means to avoid being inconsiderate,
mean or rude on the internet.
- Viruses and hackers.
- Your child could download a file containing a virus that could
damage the computer or increase the risk of a hacker gaining
remote access to the computer. This could jeopardize your
family's privacy and safety.
- Here's a little quiz on Phishing Attacks or How to
Spot a Scam
It is important that you and your teenager understand how a
phishing attack works. Phishing is a technique that
hackers use to steal information by duplicating legitimate
websites with copies that are almost exactly the same; some are
very, very convincing. A phished website may pose as a
bank or other financial institution and ask for private or
personal information in an attempt to steal your identity or
worse. The following is a five-question quiz run in the
10/17/2007 Wall Street Journal. See if you can spot the
Here are five Web addresses. Can you tell which are real and
which are fake (run by a hacker)?
The part of the address that matters comes just before the ".com
" or ".net", so in the first example, the site is really
verification.com, and has nothing to do with eBay. Many
legitimate sites have letters other than www before the company
name, so the web address in sample # 2 is fine. Anything that
comes after a "/" just represents a page off of the main site.
HOW YOU CAN REDUCE THE RISKS
While children need a certain
amount of privacy, they also need family involvement and supervision
in their daily lives. The same general parenting skills that
apply in the real world also apply online. Just as you would if
you had a concern about your child's regular activities, if you have
cause for concern regarding their online activities you must take
action. Talk to
your children about the pitfalls of the internet. Seek out the
advice and counsel of teacher, librarians, and other internet and
online service users in your area. Having open communication
with your children about using computer resources as well as getting
online yourself will help you to obtain the full benefit of these
systems and will help to alert you to any potential problem that may
occur with their use. If your child tells you about an upsetting
message, person or website, don't blame your child, but help him or
her avoid problems in the future.
Beyond these basics there are some
specific things you should know about the internet. For
instance, did you know that there are chat areas, newsgroups, and web
sites that have hateful or violent material or material otherwise
considered to be inappropriate? It is very possible to stumble
across this type of material while doing research. Remember,
search engines (Google, Yahoo, Ask, Dogpile, etc.), websites commonly
used for legitimate research, do not filter out
material that might be bad for children. If your child winds up
at an inappropriate site, tell them to immediately leave that page by
pushing the Home icon, by going to another site, or shutting down the
Some Internet Providers allow parents or guardians
to limit their children's access to certain services and features,
such as adult-oriented chat rooms, bulletin boards and websites.
There may be an area just for children where it is less likely for
them to stumble onto inappropriate material or get into an
unsupervised chat. At the very least, you should keep track of
any files that your children download to the computer, consider
sharing an email account with your child (to oversee their email) and
consider joining them when they are in chat rooms.
there are ways to filter or control what your children can see and do
online - although no filter is 100% foolproof. Customized
software will never take the place of good parental supervision, but
you can find a directory of filtering programs at
Another option is to use a
rating system that relies on website operators to indicate the nature
of their material. Internet browsers can be configured to only
allow children to visit sites rated at the level parents or guardians
specify. The advantage to this method is only appropriately
rated sites can be viewed. The disadvantage is that many
appropriate websites have not submitted themselves for a rating and
will therefore be blocked.
Regardless of whether you choose to use a
child-friendly Internet Service Provider, a filtering program or an internet rating system, the best way to assure
your children are having positive online experiences is to stay in
touch with what they are doing. One way to do this is to spend
time with your child while they are online. Have them show you
what they do and ask them to teach you how to use the internet or
online service. You might be surprised how much your children
know and also how much you can learn from your children.
GUIDELINES FOR PARENTS OR GUARDIANS
taking responsibility for your children's online computer use, parents
or guardians can greatly minimize any potential risks of being online.
Make it a rule to:
Keep your family computer in a family room rather than in
a child's bedroom. Shining the light of day on your child's
online surfing habits may be enough to keep them out of harms way.
Never give out identifying information, such as home address,
school name, or telephone number in a public message such as a chat
or newsgroup. Be sure you know who you are dealing with when
you give that kind of information out via email. Think
carefully before revealing any personal information to anyone.
Do not post photographs of your children in newsgroups or on
websites available to the general public. Consider using a
pseudonym (an alias), and avoid listing your child's name or email
address in any public directory or online profile.
Get to know the internet services your child uses. If
you don't know how to log on, get your child or an internet savvy
friend to show you. Have
your child show you what he or she does online, and become familiar
with all of their activities online. Find out if your
children have free, web-based email accounts (such as an email
account from Yahoo.com, Hotmail.com, Gmail.com, etc.) or their own
personal websites (MySpace.com, Facebook.com, Friendster.com, etc.).
If they do have such accounts, learn their user names and passwords
and check up on their usage. It also may be helpful to learn
the places, such as the school, library, or friend's houses, where
your children can routinely access those accounts.
your child to arrange a face-to-face meeting with someone they
first meet on the internet. If you decide to disregard that
advice and decide to allow a meeting, make the first one in a public
place and be sure to accompany your child.
Never respond to
messages that are suggestive, obscene, belligerent, threatening,
or make you feel scared, uncomfortable or confused. Encourage
your child to tell you if they encounter such messages. If you
or your child receives a message that is harassing, of a sexual
nature, or threatening, forward a copy of the message to your
Internet Service Provider (ISP) and ask for their assistance.
Instruct your child not to click on any hyperlinks contained in
email messages from persons that they do not know. Such links
could lead to sexually explicit or otherwise inappropriate websites
or could initiate a computer virus.
People online may not be
who they seem or claim to be. Because you cannot see or
hear the person you are corresponding with it is easy for someone
with bad intentions to misrepresent themselves. Thus, someone
indicating online that they are a 12-year old female could, in
reality, be a 40-year old man.
Everything you read or see
online may not be true. Just as with offers received in
the mail or seen on television, any offer online that is "too good
to be true" probably is. Be extremely careful
Set reasonable rules and guidelines for computer use by your
children. You may want to print out a copy of
My Rules For Online Safety and post them
near your computer as a reminder. Remember to monitor your
children's compliance with these rules, especially when it comes to
the amount of time your children spend online. Personal
computers and online services should not be used as electronic
Check out blocking, filtering, and ratings
applications to see if they will be of assistance to your
Always use, and keep current, Anti-Virus and Anti-Adware
software on your computer.