Great American Privacy Makeover

Tips for Parents: Who's Watching Your Kids?

Illustration: Joe Zeff
If the Web can be a dangerous place for responsible, savvy adults, imagine the risks for children. However, some of the most troubling responses to PC World's survey came from parents. Surprisingly, the survey indicated that respondents with children who go online are significantly less concerned about invasive and insecure practices than those without kids. Moreover, only 51 percent of parents said they talk to their kids about using the Net, and just 55 percent set limits on their kids' Internet use. Finally, a mere 8 percent use software to monitor their kids' online travels.

Although there are laws on the books that help protect the Internet's youngest users, parents are ultimately the ones responsible for safeguarding their children online. Here are several tips to ensure that your kids surf safely.

  1. Set limits. Restrict your child's time online, and be familiar with sites they visit. Consider using a tool--such as such as BioNet's Net Nanny, Solid Oak Software's Cybersitter, or Webroot's ChildSafe--that filters or monitors your child's Internet use, especially if you have younger children. Many ISPs let you set parameters for online activity; AOL, for example, lets parents specify filtering settings depending on the child's age, so younger browsers might be allowed to visit only a few select sites, while teens browse more freely.
  2. Talk to your kids about the Internet's dangers. If they are old enough to surf the Web on their own, explain that people online aren't necessarily who they say they are. Never allow them to arrange a personal meeting with someone they meet online.
  3. Teach them not to share personally identifiable information. Tell children never to give out their last name, address, or phone number, or the name of their school, for example. Also, never allow them to e-mail or post a photograph of themselves online.
  4. Teach kids never to open e-mail file attachments. Most viruses and worms propagate that way and may be sent inadvertently by people you know. If you expect something via e-mail, scan it for viruses before opening it, to be safe. Instruct kids to tell you or a teacher if they receive a file or a Web page that they're uncomfortable with.
  5. Monitor instant messaging and chat rooms. Know who your kids are IMing with. If they use a cell phone to IM, for example, check the statement for unfamiliar numbers. Limit or monitor the chat rooms they can access; tools such as Net Nanny can help.
  6. Regularly check your children's PC for new programs. Popular file-sharing applications and the like often come with adware or spyware, which may collect and then report information about your kids' surfing habits. A program such as Ad-aware or Spybot Search and Destroy can eliminate these unwanted apps.
  7. Skim the privacy policies of sites your children often visit. Glance through the text to see what information the site collects, and with whom it shares that data.

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