How to protect children online
Last week, the Supreme Court quietly let die a federal law dubbed the Child Online Protection Act, which made it a crime in the United States to post sexually explicit material on the Web for commercial gain without making provisions to block kids from gaining access.
A lower court in Philadelphia had struck down the law, arguing that parents could already shield their children from such material by installing Internet filters. Bush administration lawyers had appealed, countering that less than half of parents use such filters, leaving children in need of the law’s protection. It was an argument the justices declined to take up, dismissing the case.
The legal wrangling underscored a long-standing truth about kids and the Internet: No matter how ill-equipped they may be, parents are their children’s last line of defense against smut, cruelty, adult predators and the poor judgment of youth online.
Installing Internet filters can be an effective block against pornographic images. But for many parents, they are daunting technology that can limit adults’ -- and kids’ -- legitimate searches as well, including those for information on sexual health.
They also are a poor defense against cyber-bullying and sexual solicitation on social networking sites.
Following are tips from the National Assn. of School Psychologists on protecting your kids online, even if your own online skills lag behind theirs.
* Keep computers in easily viewable places, such as the family room or kitchen.
* Talk regularly with your children about the online activities in which they are involved and Internet etiquette in general. Children should know the rule that many adults have learned from painful experience: Do not say online what you would not say in person.
* Encourage children to be self-protective. Remind them that anything they say on the Internet or in phone text messages can be shared with others and misused. Ask them to consider if they want what they are saying and doing broadly disseminated. If not, they probably should not say or post it.
* Be specific about the risks of cyber-bullying and their need to tell you if something that bothers them occurs.
* Respect for adolescents’ privacy is important. But tell children that you may review their online communications if you have reason for concern.
* Set clear expectations for responsible online behavior and phone use and consequences for violating those expectations.
* Consider establishing a parent-child Internet use contract.
* Consider installing parental-control filtering software or tracking programs but do not rely solely on these tools.
* Be aware of warning signs that might indicate your son or daughter is being bullied, such as reluctance to use the computer, a change in the child’s behavior and mood, or reluctance to go to school.
* Document the bullying.
* Be equally alert to the possibility that your child could be bullying others online, even if unintentionally.
* Understand current local laws and your school policies. Work with your school to develop policies if they don’t exist.
* If you have concerns, contact your child’s school to enlist the help of the school psychologist, school counselor, principal or resource officer.
* File a complaint with the website, Internet service provider or cellphone company if you learn of problematic behavior.
* Contact police if the cyber-bullying includes threats.
* Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use: www.cyberbully.org.
* StopCyberbullying.org: www.stopcyberbullying.org.
* Cyberbullying.us: www.cyberbullying.us.
* StopBullyingNow: stopbullyingnow.hrsa.gov.
* CyberSmart: www.cybersmart.org.