Parents Internet Guide - Parental Controls

A Parent's Guide to the Internet and it's Dangers to Children, and Parental Controls software information.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Don't Believe the Type!

There's a new campaign to raise awareness of online predators. The campaign suggests that most predators will seek out teens (esp. teen girls) through chat rooms and IM. The campaign fails to talk about P2P sites or blogs, which I see as two of the most vulnerable places on the Internet currently. The problem is that programmers specializing in monitoring software can't keep up with all the other Internet innovations. There just aren't enough of them out there. It's sad that so many people are just interested in trying to come out with next great thing without thinking about the potential dangers of what's already out there.

The other problem I have with this campaign is that it's doing nothing but instigating fear. While I am a firm believer in information getting to the public about online predators, I think that there are good and bad ways to do this.

We have to view the Internet as a cyber world. It has the same great advantages and the same potential dangers. We teach kids to be cautious out in the real world, so we need to teach them to be cautious in cyber space as well. This is where the campaign falls flat. Yes, attention grabbing techniques, like saying, "Before you start an online relationship with a guy, think about how it could end" while a shot of police are searching an apartment are needed, but then add, something like, "Here are things you can do, people you can talk with, monitoring programs you can install, to make the Internet a safer place."

We need to cover all of our bases, make people more aware of the problem and offer all the safety advice we have. Check out the don't believe the type online campaign, which does a better job than the TV ads do, in my opinion.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The IM Generation

Parents and teens often have differing opinions about the web. Teens carry their idea of immortality to the Net. Many feel that they know more than their parents and they probably aren't too far off base.

It wasn't too long ago that parents complained about teens' excessive use of the telephone. Today's youth are being dubbed the IM generation. The use of screen names allows kids to experiment with multiple personas. It's common for teens have multiple screen names and identitfy different personas with each. It also enables them to say things that they wouldn't say face-to-face or even on the phone. It's a false sense of security by not being able to see or hear who they are speaking with. Kids have said that they have harassed or been harassed by their peers on IM. Older boys often lie about their identity and age online to allow them access to adult sites. Also, many teens, girls especially, have given out their passwords to friends as a sign of trust. Plus, most teens have met someone that they didn't previously know online whether via e-mail, IM or chat rooms.

I know all this because it wasn't all that long ago that I was a teen exploring the Internet myself. That and Pew Internet & American Life Project did a study on it not too long ago. Read the study.

My point in this post is that while most parents are taking great strides in making the Internet a safer place for their kids, many kids are aware of it and are trying to find ways around this. With IM being the number one communicator for kids, logging their conversations is a good first step to take in monitoring their Internet usage. Also (and this is from personal experience) peers are the most prominant harassers online. A lot more is being said since there's no longer a fear of public confrontation.

Check my links for some good resources as well as a link to monitoring software.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Yahoo! finally stepping up to the plate!

Yahoo has shut down some its public chat rooms because some adult users were promoting sexual activities with minors. Of course, it took TV station, KPRC-TV, covering the story for Yahoo to take any action.

It seems there were actually chat rooms with titles such as "Girls 13 and Under for Older Guys". You would think a company as vast as Yahoo would be monitoring their chat rooms a bit more closely. I haven't heard of any children being kidnapped or molested as a direct result of these chat rooms.

Yahoo says that they have strict policies about conduct toward minors and about posting illicit or obscene messages. It seems to be time for Yahoo to start using some blocking and filtering software themselves. Kicking out and blocking repeat rule breakers may be a policy Yahoo should practice as well.

Some companies to commend are Pepsi, State Farm Insurance and Georgia-Pacific who pulled their advertising from the chat sections as a result fo the news broadcast.

Read the article.

Computer Games Kill??

A Russian teenage boy died after playing computer games for 12 hours non-stop. According to doctors the boy had a stroke after playing half a day straight. Apparently the boy stayed in the game club longer than the specified safety regulations. The autopsy revealed that the boy's brain was totally destroyed.

Read the article

This concept was kind of hard for me to digest at first read so I did some research and found that gaming addictions are common for kids and parents may not even realize that it's a problem until it's too late. Basically what happens is that the online fantasy world replaces the person's real world. This addiction can actually have psychological and behavioral ramifications. Gaming has become an addiction on the level of alcohol and drugs for kids these days. These kids have a dire need to play computer games even though they know it isn't a productive pastime. This results in intellectual and psychological problems. Behavorial traits such as being short-tempered, irascible or emotionally unstable can be indictators of a gaming addiction.

For a more comprehensive discussion of what gamiing addictions are and what can be done about them check out the International Game Developers Association.

Friday, June 24, 2005

It's EASY for Kids to View Porn

I always assumed that you had to have a credit card number to access porn online. Apparently I was wrong. I read an article reporting a study suggesting that the largest consumers of Internet porn are 12-17 year olds and that children as young as 11 are being exposes to porn. To read the article click here.

In some of my previous blogs I discussed online predators and how they are likely to be sending kids porn. This is very true, but the most common way for kids to receive this material is from other kids. I know that AOL, earthlink and other ISPs come with blocking software, which filter images and blocks e-mails. However, it seems that these programs don't block all chat rooms, or any blogs or P2P (peer-to-peer) web sites. These are traps that parents need to be aware of. For definitions and info on P2P sites click here and on blogs click here.

Until next time...

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Newsletter for Parent Tools Customers?

I'm wondering what interest there is in a newsletter for those who follow the parent tools software. I can see the benefits, but I may be a bit biased as I'm a little too close to the project. There's quite a bit going on with the business right now that could easily be relayed to curious parties through the use of a newsletter sent through e-mail. It would probably be a monthly update on what's happening in the world of parent tools.

For instance, parent tools yahoo! messenger has been updated to work with yahoo! 7.0 beta. All bugs have been eliminated finally (hopefully ;) ) . Plus, the site is going through an entire re-design process right now. It's finally to the point of adding content I think. Joe is quite picky though (it's one of his more endearing qualities). Also, he's in the begining stages of creating a new software monitoring program. I don't want to get too in depth in the details as this is definitely the very early stages of the process, but it's shaping up to be a great project.

Another benefit would be freeing up this blog space. I would be able to write strictly about internet safety hazards, tips, and software as opposed to updating every so often about what's happening specifically with the business.

Any thoughts?

Monday, June 20, 2005

Internet Safety: Part 3 - Prevention

Tips to Prevent All Communication Between Your Child and Online Predators.
  • Communicate with your child about sexual victimization and online dangers.
  • Reason: Kids will listen if you talk to them enough. This also keeps the lines of communication open if your child is ever contacted by an online predator.
  • Spend time with your children online and have them teach you about their favorite online pasttimes.
  • Reason: You want to know where they are going and what they are doing just as you would when they leave your house. Also, knowing how to navigate their favorite sites and use their favorite IMs and/or IRCs will help you retrace their steps if need be.
  • Keep the computer in a common room in your house, not your child's room!
  • Reason: It will make it more difficult for kids to have sexually explicit conversations or view sexually explicit material if the computer screen is visible to the entire household.
  • Utilize parental controls given to you by your service provider. For increased safety use use blocking/monitoring software.
  • Reason: Not all monitoring software provides the same features and not all software is user friendly. Check out what you're buying and the response time of their tech support staff. Chat rooms and IM programs should be heavily monitored/blocked as these are the two most common means online predators use to find children. Keep in mind, however, that while these software programs should be utilized, they shouldn't be soley relied on.
  • Always maintain access to your child's account and randomly check his/her e-mail.
  • Reason: This is the primary way your child will receive sexually explicit pictures. Also, after contacting your child through chat rooms and instane messages, predators will want to speak through e-mail as they can do this at any time throughout the day. Be upfront with your children your access and why you have it.
  • Limit your child's time spent online.
  • Reason: As a rule of thumb, the less time children are online the less opportunity they have to experience an online predator. Not to mention, it isn't healthy for children to stay couped up behind a computer screen for hours upon hours, just as it isn't healthy for them to do this with television. Allow them to use the Internet, but encourage other activities as well.
  • Teach your child about responsible uses of the Internet.
  • Reason: The Internet is a great resource for children. Show them that there is more to it than chat rooms.
  • Find out what computer blocking/monitoring software is used by your child's school, the pulic library homes of your child's friends and any other computers which your child may have online access to.
  • Reason: These are all places outside your normal supervision where your child has the opportunity to encounter a predator.
  • Remember, even if your child was a willing participant in any form of sexual victimization, it is never his/her fault!
  • Reason: Children can be naive about such matters and predators are master manipulators. The offender always bears complete responsibility for his/her actions!
  • Instruct your child to:
  1. Never arrange a face to face meeting with someone they met online.
  2. Never upload/post pictures of themselves onto the Internet for people they don't personally know.
  3. Never give out identifying info about themselves such as their name, address, phone number or even school name to anybody they meet online.
  4. Never download pictures from an unknown source.
  5. Never respond to bulletin boards that are suggestive, obscene, belligerent or harrassing.
  6. Keep in mind that what they are told online may or may not be true.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Internet Safety: Part 2 - Act On Suspicions

What To Do If You Suspect Your Child is Talking With an Online Predator
  • Talk openly with your child about your suspicions. Tell them about the dangers of online predators.
  • Review what is on your child's computer. If you don't know how, ask a knowledgeable source.
  • Use Caller ID service to determine who is calling your child. Most phone companies offer features to block your number from appearing on other Caller its and to block anonymous incoming calls.
  • Monitor your child's access to all types of electronic communication. These include chat rooms, instant messaging, instant relay chats, etc. Also monitor your child's e-mail.

*Contact your state or local law enforcement agency if you find yourself in any of the following scenarios:

  1. Your child or anyone in the household has received child pornography;
  2. You child has been sexually solicited by someone who knows that your child is under the age of 18 years old;
  3. You child has received sexually explicit material from from someone who knows that your child is under the age of 18 years old.

*If you find yourself in any of these situations, keep the computer turned off in order to preserve any evidence for future law enforcement use. Also, unless otherwise directed to do so, do not attempt to copy of the images or text found on the computer.

Check back to find out ways to prevent all communications between your child and online sex offenders.

This information found at www.fbi.gov/publications.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Internet Safety: Part 1 - Warning Signs

Signs That Your Child May Be At Risk Online
  • Your child spends large amounts of time online at night.
  • Reason: Many predators work during the day, thereby spending their evenings online trying to loacte and lure children.
  • You find pornography on your child's computer.
  • Reason: Sex offenders often times supply children with porn in order to open sexual discussions and as a means of seduction. Also child porn may be used to show the victim that sex between children and adults is "normal".
  • Your child receives phone calls from men you don't know or is making calls, sometimes long distance, to numbers you don't recognize.
  • Reason: Many sex offenders find talking online to children cumbersome after awhile and prefer to talk to children via the telephone. Often times they will entice them into phone sex and/or make arrangements to meet up for real sex.
  • Your child receives mail, gifts or packages from someone you don't know.
  • Reason: It is common for sex offenders to seduce their victims with letters, photographs and various gifts.
  • Your child turns the monitor off quickly or changes the screen on the monitor when you enter the room.
  • Reason: A child looking at pornographic images or having sexually explicit conversations does not want you to see it on the screen.
  • A child becomes withdrawn from the family.
  • Reason: Computer sex offenders try very hard to build a wall between the victim and his/her family. It is also common for children to become withdrawn after sexual victimization.
  • Your child is using an online account belonging to somebody else.
  • Reason: Even if you don't have Internet service children can meet predators while online at a friend's house or at the library. It is common for computers to come preloaded with Internet software. Sometimes sex offenders will provide potential victims with with a computer account in order to talk with them.

    Check back to see what to do if your child if you suspect your child is communicating with a predator online and ways to help prevent these communications initially.

    This information found at www.fbi.gov/publications.

    Wednesday, June 08, 2005

    Online Predators Know What They're Doing. Do You?

    With June being Internet safety month, TV, radio and print ads are being run (as of today actually) warning of the dangers when sexual predators coincide with IMing. According to these ads, 1 in 5 children are solicited online, the susceptible victim being teenage girls. Solicitaions of this type have been steadily rising since the late 90s and are projected to increase in the coming years. With approximately 87% of all teens using the Internet, most communicating via an instant messenger, how likely is your child to interact with a predator at some point.

    What better time to try parent tools then now?