On the World Wide Web, information is just a click away. It's a thesaurus, a dictionary, an encyclopedia, even a social networking site – all at our fingertips. The Internet can be a great educational tool for teens. It's a place where teens can chat, research, and have fun. Unfortunately, even with all its advances in technology, the information superhighway has developed a dark side.
In the year 2006, 65 percent of high school students admitted to unsafe, inappropriate, or illegal activities online according to a report by i-SAFE Inc. The same report went on to state that 38 percent of high school students sometimes hide their online activities from their parents. The statistics also present a grave revelation: 31 percent of 7th- to 12th-graders pretended to be older to get onto a website.
An effort must be made by both teens and parents to practice caution when using the Internet. Here are a few safety suggestions:
Safety tips for teens when using the Internet:
- Never post any identifying information on the internet. This includes your name, phone number, address, town in which you live, and school. Remember, there are countless ways to find out who you really are without you directly stating it.
- When using chatrooms, even if they are "Islamic chatrooms", remember that not everyone may be who they say they are. For example, a person who says "she" is a 15-year-old girl from Michigan may really be a 42-year-old man from California. Just as we stay away from strangers on the street, be careful about strangers on the Internet.
- Remember that nothing is ever forgotten or deleted from the Internet. Teens have been suspended from school, fired from jobs, and threatened with arrest over the things they have posted online. Think twice before making postings online; chances are whatever you post will be there to stay and can be found be running a quick Google search.
- Social networking websites can be great for expanding our circle of friends and staying in touch with others, but they also can increase your exposure to people with less-than-friendly intentions. Consider how different sites work before deciding to join a site. Some sites will allow only a defined group of users to view posted content; others can allow anyone and everyone to view postings.
Internet Safety Tips for Parents:
- Invest in monitoring or filtering software. The former would be more suitable for younger children who may not be as net savvy. A great software for filtering is Net Nanny. This product offers customized filtering. That way, your 16-year-old has less restrictive settings than a 10-year-old. Features include: web/email/chat blocking and time limitations.
- Software can be a great way to protect your children online; however, no amount of software can replace your presence. Place the home computer in an open and central location and not in the bedroom of young children.
- Use the internet together. Some parents may feel that their children are more technologically literate, but instead of backing away from the computer, parents should discover the Internet together and mutually agree with their teen to the rules for internet usage.
- Establish family rules about Internet usage. Committing to a parent-child Internet agreement can help cement the rules. It will also increase the chances of the rules being followed since the child feels they helped create the rules.
- Engage your teen. Ask your teen questions like: "What are the coolest or newest websites? " "What sites used to be popular and are no longer favorites? Why?" "Show me your favorite sites." Yes, asking this question may mean spending 30 minutes of your precious time looking at a website about the NCAA rankings from 1980, but the effort is worth it. Let your teen know that you trust them online and are also interested in what they do on the Internet.
Keep in mind that the Internet has many perks, but safety shouldn't be forfeited for any reason. A little effort by both teens and parents can lead to a much more pleasant yet safe online experience!