The Home School Court Report
Vol. XXII
No. 3
Cover
May/June
2006

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By Whitney Putman
- disclaimer -
Internet Safety Tips

The Internet is becoming an important educational tool, but, like any tool, it must be handled with care. We asked Whitney Putman, a homeschool graduate and a senior at Patrick Henry College who works part-time for the Home School Foundation, to share a few thoughts on internet safety with our member families.

“As a college student, I spend hundreds of hours online: checking email, reading news websites and blogs (short for weblogs), and researching for school,” says Whitney. “My generation is more and more dependent on the Internet, and with new advances in technology come new challenges.

“Being able to navigate the online world is an important skill for children to learn today. It’s vital that parents take the time to understand the Internet and help their children learn how to maximize its benefits and avoid its dangers.”

Do you know what your children are doing online? “They may be chatting with friends, posting to their blogs, reading other friends’ websites, or just surfing the ’net,” Whitney says. She points out that popular “social networking” sites, such as Facebook (for high school and college students) and My Space (which boasts 60 million registered users), are growing rapidly. “In just a few minutes, a person can create his own website or blog, post pictures, and connect to people all over the world. It’s an easy way to keep up with friends and make new ones.”

“However, the ease of building relationships online can expose children to harmful situations,” Whitney cautions. “Information posted online is available to most of the world.” Children who publish identifying details such as their phone number, address, or age—even on supposedly “safe” sites—are more likely to be targeted by those with dangerous motives.

She offers a few pointers for helping your family stay safe online:

  • Keep computers in high-traffic areas of the home. It is easier to keep an eye on your children’s Internet activities when the computer is not in a back bedroom.
  • Set web accounts on sites such as Facebook, My Space, or Xanga to their highest security level. Look for options such as “security” or “controls.”
  • Instruct your children not to give any personal information (including pictures) to someone whom they only know online.
  • Do not post identifying information (such as a telephone number, address, or screen name).
  • Children should obtain parental approval before filling out email questionnaires.
  • Children should never respond to an email or message from someone they do not know unless a parent has confirmed that it is safe to reply.
  • Do not allow your children to go into online chat rooms without your prior approval. Most chat sites are poorly monitored and place no restrictions on who may talk with whom.
  • Never meet in person with someone you only know online. It is easy for dangerous people to mask their true identities online.
  • Establish a clear and open communication policy with your children. If they ever see anything online that concerns them or makes them feel uncomfortable, they should let you know right away.

The Internet is a powerful and convenient way to enhance learning and keep in touch with friends. By being aware of how your children spend their time in cyberspace, you can help them avoid possible dangers and instead benefit from this incredible resource.