July 31, 2009

EIE President Discusses How to Protect Kids Online
 

 Friday Five: Online Safety Expert Donna Rice Hughes

'One of the most important things that parents can do is ...not assume that their child is immune from any type of Internet danger or risk.'

Donna Rice Hughes is president of Enough is Enough, an organization dedicated to making the Internet safer for children and families. Its website offers parents support and advice on protecting their children.

1.  Let's talk about 'sexting,' or the practice of sending explicit messages or photos via cell phone.  How do parents deal with this issue?

One of the most important things that parents can do is to be informed and not assume that their child is immune from any type of Internet danger or risk.  Actually one in five teens have admitted that they are 'sexting,' or have done this in the past.  One of the things parents can do is not provide Internet access.  You can also limit the ability to text.

2.  What about social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace?

Well, parents need to know, first of all, if their kids are even on a social-networking site, and this comes with keeping the lines of communication open.

Also, to be aware that the popular social-networking sites like MySpace and Facebook, do have age restrictions.  However, a young person can go on and be dishonest about their age and get a social-networking profile.

If a parent decides to let their child on a social-networking site, it's important to instruct them to keep their profiles private, so that only people within their own circle of friends can view their private information.  It's also important to let kids know that no information is truly private.

Of course, the only way the parent can view their child's profile is if the parent has set up a profile and has been added as a friend.  So, there is a tremendous amount of cyber-parenting involved to keep your kids safe.

3.  What about Internet or fantasy games?

Online gaming does create a number of issues and problems beyond just the violence and the fact that it can be addictive.  Anytime a young person is gaming online, they can actually be playing with people that they don't know.  So any of those issues of anonymous predators can come up in the gaming world.  It's important for parents to realize that their kids can be playing with perfect strangers who may want to cause them harm.

But there are also parental controls on the popular gaming devices.  We always encourage parents to use 'rules and tools' on all Internet-enabled devices.  Whether it's an online gaming device, a cell phone, a laptop, a desktop, you have to use safety rules and software tools.  They're there so that parents can limit the amount of access that their kids have anywhere in the online world.

4.  Even Internet searches can be dangerous for kids.  Is there anything parents can do to lessen the danger?

Kids can access any type of content online.  It's important to recognize that the same laws and regulations that shield kids in print and broadcast, for instance, from pornography, do not necessarily apply online or are not being enforced online.  Parents must use an Internet filter.  This is very, very important.  Filters will catch 95-plus percent of the inappropriate content.

What is so nice about them is that you can set different filter levels for different ages of kids in your household, and they allow you to block different categories as well.  Most search engines have a preference level so you can have filtered search results, but a parent has got to go and turn those on.

Parents are the stewards of their children's innocence.

5.  What about file sharing, peer-to-peer networks and that sort of thing?

Peer-to-peer file-sharing networks are the most difficult parts of the Internet to effectively safeguard your children because they are passing from computer to computer.  Many of the filters and parental control companies will actually allow you to block all the file-sharing programs.  The bottom line is you can't filter file-sharing programs, so blocking is the only way to stop that.

FOR MORE INFORMATION
Visit Focus on the Family’s Pure Intimacy Web site for a library of articles on family protection and online safety.