Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Sue Scheff: Teaching Children About Online Risks

Wiredsafety.org offers a tremendous amount of information to help you help your children to stay safe online. Here is one of their latest articles by Parry Aftab, a leading voice in educating parents and kids that surf on the net!

By Parry Aftab , WiredSafety.org
How can I teach my children about risks online if I have never used the Internet?
For some reason, the moment anyone mentions the word “computer” or the “Internet,” everyone panics. I don’t know why. All the normal advice about using common sense to stay safe applies exactly the same in cyberspace. Use the same lectures your parents gave you — the same ones their parents gave them. We can use the basic rules and just translate them into cybertalk. Let me show you how easy it is.

It’s The Same Old Thing-in a New and Improved Package

Don’t talk to or accept anything from strangers. (See? Familiar territory)

I need to meet your friends.
Come straight home.
Don’t say nasty things about other people.
Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
Be polite to and respectful of others.
Don’t tell people personal things about yourself.
Don’t tell people personal things about your family.
I told you that you already know this stuff but just needed someone to translate it into cyberspace terms. Here’s the translation:

Don’t talk to or accept anything from strangers.
Who’s a stranger online? Everyone is! Yet we talk online in chat rooms and discussion groups all the time. It’s one of the most entertaining things we can do online. So how does this advice work online?
Teach your children that anyone they don’t know offline is a stranger. You can chat with them, but never tell them anything that you would tell a friend. Remember, chat with them-but don’t confide in them. Talk about movies, or music, or sports-nothing personal. A teenager put it best; she said, “Remember that the people you chat with online are not your friends, they are just people you chat with.”

But this is the hardest thing for our children to remember. As I told you before, one of the biggest problems with cyberpredators is that they function in your home. Our kids feel safe with us seated nearby. Their stranger danger reflexes are not engaged.

There is a sense of intimacy online that cyberpredators count on. They need to convince your children that they are not strangers at all. They hope to convince them that the standard rules don’t apply. You need to remind your children that these people are strangers and that the standard rules always apply.
I need to meet your friends.

We all heard this from our parents, and have said this to our own children. You’d never let your children spend time with real-life friends you hadn’t met, would you? Why should it be any different in cyberspace? You should get to know the people they are frequently talking to online: who is influencing them, is the friendship appropriate, and are they the kind of children you want your child associated with. While you don’t have to know everyone they run into in cyberspace, you should find out whom they are chatting with regularly.

There are some special reasons to find out whom they are friends with online that don’t exist in real-life friendships. In real life our kids can spot the adults. In cyberspace they can’t. Most of the predators who are out to meet your child offline and who have something other than friendship on their minds- pretend to be children to get past their “stranger danger” radar screen.

Sometimes parents can tell an adult online better than a child can, and might be able to spot an adult who is posing as a teenager or young child to fool your kids.
Come straight home.

When I was young, I was famous for wandering around after school. Friends always invited me home with them, or something interesting was going on. My mother would panic and I would get the same lecture day after day.

Wandering aimlessly online isn’t any different from my wandering around after school. My mother needed to know I was safe, and that I was doing something productive, like homework. Allowing your children to spend unlimited time online, surfing aimlessly, is asking for trouble.
Make sure there’s a reason they’re surfing. If they are just surfing randomly, set a time limit. My advice is to limit surfing just for fun (not schoolwork) to under 1-1/2 hours per day You want them to come home after they’re done, to human interaction and family activities (and homework).

Don’t say nasty things about other people.

Saying nasty things about other people in cyberspace is called “flaming.” It often violates the “terms of service” of your online service provider and will certainly get a reaction from other people online. Flaming matches can be long and extended battles, moving from a chat room or discussion group to e-mail quickly. If your child feels that someone is flaming them, they should tell you and the sysop (system operator, pronounced “sis-op”) or moderator in charge right away.

Don’t take things that aren’t yours.

Kids are surfing and doing their homework. They are surfing and building their own Web sites. While surfing, they often “borrow” things that others have written, and photos and graphics belonging to someone else. For the most part, they are breaking the law. They are stealing someone else’s property.

Many people think that attribution (giving credit to the source) is enough when you copy something. But they are wrong. There is something called “fair use,” which I’ve mentioned elsewhere in this book. But using a graphic at your site, or using a whole poem or story, isn’t fair use. While it’s unlikely that anyone will sue your children for copyright infringement based on a term paper or school report, more and more people are being targeted by entertainment industry members for Web sites and public postings that violate their intellectual property rights.

Be polite and respectful of others.

There are rules for proper behavior everywhere. The online world is no exception. Many online areas have their own rules of correct behavior- sometimes called channel rules or codes of conduct. Learn the rules first.

Chat rooms each have their own rules, too. Don’t barge in and start talking until you’ve had a chance to see what everyone’s discussing. Read the discussion thread for a while, instead of asking everyone what they were talking about. And be respectful of others and their opinions.
Don’t post the same message over and over. Other people’s time is valuable, and they don’t want to have to weed through the same messages you posted in tons of places. If someone helps you, say “thank you.” Courtesy goes a long way in cyberspace. It all comes down to respecting others.

Don’t tell people personal things about yourself.

And don’t tell personal things about your family. You never really know whom you’re talking to. And even if you think you know whom you are talking to, there could be strangers lurking and reading without letting you know that they are there. It’s like writing your personal diary on a postcard.

With children especially, sharing personal information puts them at risk. Make sure your children understand what you consider personal information, and agree to keep it confidential online and everywhere else. Practice asking them questions about themselves they may encounter in a chat room. We teach our children to be polite, not to ignore people or tell them something is none of their business. We also tell them not to talk to strangers. This sometimes creates confusion, and confusion puts kids at risk. Whenever they don’t understand the clear rules, they may wing it. When it comes to sharing personal information online, you never want your kids to wing it.

Remember that the Internet is more like the telephone than it is like the television. Use the same kind of safety measures you would use if your children were talking on the phone to a stranger. If in doubt, think - phone call!

Parry Aftab is a noted online safety and privacy expert and Executive Director of WiredSafety.org