Net-proofing your kids

Kids are growing up fast these days, drinking coffee, talking on cell phones, getting tattoos, preparing their own meals, staying out late, and wearing clothes that you’re not comfortable seeing on a 20-year-old.

At least part of the reason is the fact that in many homes, both parents have full-time jobs. As a result kids have very little supervision compared to past generations, and some added responsibilities as well.

For the most part parents are happy if their kids bring home decent grades and the house hasn’t burned to the ground when they get home. But while there is nothing wrong with trusting a preteen or teenager to make a few more decisions, there are some things about computers and the Internet that parents should know to protect their kids at any age.

Today kids are street-proofed in school, gym teachers and guidance counsellors give them the sex talk, and schools and police forces work together to offer programs for drug and alcohol awareness, violence, and other youth-related issues.

When it comes to computers, however, kids are generally on their own.

And they typically have a huge head start on their parents in this particular department – a lot of older people are still baffled by the most basic Internet tasks, like surfing the Web or sending an e-mail. They don’t understand chat-rooms, blog boards, messenger services and other open communication tools out there, and the very real safety risks that they can pose.

For younger kids, there is no shortage of software to block out sites that contain violence, profanity, nudity and other adult material. As long as parents don’t use something obvious like the name of the family pet or the home phone number as the password to unlock this software, you are usually pretty safe when it comes to browsing the Web.

Symantec, the producer of the Norton line of security and disk repair software, recommends talking to kids about what sites are okay to visit – completely forgetting rule one of parenting; the sites you place off limits will inevitably become the sites that kids will most want to see. Reverse psychology isn’t going to work in this situation either.

Symantec also recommends placing the family computer in a high-traffic area of the house to discourage kids from visiting certain sites, but that trick only works when other people are actually home.

One piece of advice that makes perfect sense, however, is to never, under any circumstances, give out personal information on the Web – no last names, no phone numbers, no addresses, no school information, and especially no photographs.

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