Here are tips for both parents and children on how to safely use the Web. They were written by Lawrence J. Magid (author of Cruising On-line: Larry Magid's Guide to the New Digital Highway, Random House, 1994) for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (800-843-5678) and Interactive Services Association. An on-line version of these guidelines can be obtained from the ISA's Web site: http://www.isa.net/isa.
Guidelines for Parents
Never give out identifying information - home address, school name, or telephone number - in a public message such as chat or bulletin boards, and be sure you're dealing with someone that both you and your child know and trust before giving it out via e-mail. Think carefully before revealing any personal information such as age, marital status, or financial information. Consider using a pseudonym or unlisting your child's name if your service allows it.
Get to know the services your child uses. If you don't know how to log on, get your child to show you. Find out what types of information they offer and whether there are ways for parents to block out objectionable material.
Never allow a child to arrange a face-to-face meeting with another computer user without parental permission. If a meeting is arranged, make the first one in a public spot and be sure to accompany your child.
Never respond to messages or bulletin board items that are suggestive, obscene, belligerent, threatening, or make you feel uncomfortable. Encourage your children 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 service provider and ask for its assistance.
Report child pornography. Should you become aware of the transmission, use, or viewing of child pornography while on-line, immediately report this to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children by calling 800-843-5678. You should also notify your on-line service provider.
Remember that people on-line may not be who they seem. Because you can't see or even hear the person, it would be easy for someone to misrepresent him- or herself. Thus, someone indicating that "she" is a "12-year-old girl" could in reality be a 40-year-old man.
Remember that not everything you read on-line is necessarily true. Any offer that's "too good to be true" probably is. Be very careful about any offers that involve your coming to a meeting or having someone visit your house.
Set reasonable rules and guidelines for computer use by your children (see Children's Rules at right as a sample). Discuss these rules and post them near the computer as a reminder. Remember to monitor their compliance with these rules, especially when it comes to the amount of time your children spend on the computer. A child or teenager's excessive use of on-line services or bulletin boards, especially late at night, may indicate a potential problem. Remember that personal computers and on-line services should not be used as electronic babysitters.
Make Internet computing a family activity. Consider keeping the computer in a family room rather than the child's bedroom. Get to know their "on-line friends" just as you get to know all of their other friends.
Children's Rules For On-line Safety
1. I will not give out personal information such as my address, telephone number, parents' work address/telephone number, or the name and location of my school without my parents' permission.
2. I will tell my parents right away if I come across any information that makes me feel uncomfortable.
3. I will never agree to get together with someone I "meet" on-line without first checking with my parents. If my parents agree to the meeting, I will be sure that it is in a public place and bring my mother or father along.
4. I will never send a person my picture or anything else without first checking with my parents.
5. I will not respond to any messages that are mean or in any way make me feel uncomfortable. It is not my fault if I get a message like that. If I do I will tell my parents right away so that they can contact the on-line service.
6. I will talk with my parents so that we can set up rules for going on-line. We will decide on the times of day that I can be on-line, the length of time I can be on-line, and appropriate areas for me to visit. I will not access other areas or break these rules without their permission.