TechnoFiles...by Riley Gay
A small refresher on Internet safety for kids

For kids, the world can be a confusing, and sometimes dangerous, place. Parents, on an almost daily basis, perform a balancing act trying to protect their children while, at the same time, helping them to learn about the world in which they live.

While our schools handle much of this responsibility by providing a safe and nurturing place for kids to learn, it is the parents who are ultimately in charge.

Besides helping and encouraging them at school, as parents we can provide our kids with many other opportunities to learn: Public libraries, cultural and social events, learning-oriented television programs and computer games can all be valuable educational tools if properly supervised.

There is another resource, though, that’s finding favor in an ever-increasing number of households with school-age kids -- the Internet.

But, while the Web can be a great place for kids to learn and play, be aware that you’ll need to take some basic steps to safeguard them while online.

Just as you might shield your children from objectionable and inappropriate content on television, some level of supervision is a must when kids venture into cyberspace. Even so, as more homes make the switch to “always on” broadband connections it has become more difficult, if not altogether impossible, to constantly monitor your child’s Internet activities.

Happily, there are some readily available tools and resources that can help you to protect the young cybersurfers in your home.

First and foremost is the direction and guidance that parents can give their kids about the online world. You may feel the need to do a little research first, though, and sites such as www.getnetwise.org and www.protectyourkids.info can be good starting places for finding the information you need regarding online safety.

Novice Internet users need to know, for example, about many of the same things that all users need to be aware of: viruses, adware/spyware, spam, and how to avoid these online hazards.

In addition, young Websurfers need to be aware that, unlike television, the Internet is an interactive medium, and that predators and others of dubious intent may try to exploit this fact to gain information for their own purposes. They need to know that, owing to the anonymous nature of the Internet, things aren’t always what they seem. And they need to know how to protect themselves from these kinds of attacks.

Your Internet service provider (ISP) might be your best ally in defending yourself and your kids online. Most ISPs, such as Cox, Earthlink, MSN and AOL, offer tools to help reduce spam, block unwanted pop-up ads, and help prevent viruses and spyware. 

In addition, your ISP may offer parental control software that will let you block websites and content inappropriate for young cybernauts.

You can also, if need be, purchase third-party software, such as NetNanny (www.netnanny.com), CyberPatrol (www.cyberpatrol.com), and Norton Internet Security (www.symantec.com), which will not only let you filter the content your child may view on the Internet, but can also allow you to place limits on the time they spend online. Programs such as NetNanny and CyberSnoop (www.cybersnoop.com) can invisibly monitor your child’s online activity and allow you to keep track of where they’ve been on the Web.

These programs can be found locally at such retail outlets as Fry’s Electronics, Best Buy, CompUSA and Circuit City, or may be downloaded, often on a trial basis, from the manufacturer’s Website.

Giving kids safe and entertaining places to go on the Internet is another way of keeping them in good hands while online. Kid friendly sites, such as Zeeks.com, Yahooligans.com, Nickelodeon.com, Disney.com and Zoog Disney, among others, offer fun and information that is designed to be appropriate for younger kids.

For some parents, cyberspace may seem like a wild and dangerous place. But by taking the proper precautions, the Internet can become a place for kids to connect to a whole new world of information and entertainment.