By Lyra Pore
It’s Sunday afternoon and I’m lying in bed, feeling a bit under the weather. My six-year-old daughter comes to me and asks: “Mom, can you play with me on the computer?” “Can you not play by yourself?” “No, I need a parent to play with me.”
It turns out she wants to create an account in Woogi World, a virtual educational community for children from kindergarten to Grade 6. The website uses gaming and social networking technologies to teach kids and claims to meet academic standards of US federal and state governments.
My kids have been taught in computer classes at school to ask for parent supervision when they go on the Internet. The school educates the parents too. We get tips for minimizing potential risks of online computer use through a newsletter the teachers send out every Wednesday. Let me share some of them with you:
“1. Never give out identifying information — home address, school name, or telephone number — in a public message such as chat or newsgroups, and be sure you’re dealing with someone both you and your children know and trust before giving out this information via e-mail. Think carefully before revealing any personal information such as age, financial information, or marital status. Do not post photographs of your children in newsgroups or on Web sites that are available to the public. Consider using a pseudonym. Avoid listing your child’s name and e-mail address in any public directories and profiles, and find out about your ISP’s privacy policies and exercise your options for how your personal information may be used.
“2. Get to know the Internet and any services your child uses. If you don’t know how to log on, get your child to show you. Have your child show you what he or she does online and become familiar with all the activities that are available online. Find out if your child has a free Web-based e-mail account, such as those offered by Hotmail and Yahoo!® , and learn their user names and passwords.
“3. Never allow a child to arrange a face-to-face meeting with someone they “meet” on the Internet without parental permission. If a meeting is arranged, make the first one in a public place, and be sure to accompany your child.
“4. Never respond to messages that are suggestive, obscene, belligerent, threatening, or make you feel uncomfortable. Encourage your children to tell you if they encounter such messages. If you or your child receives a message that is harassing, of a sexual nature, or threatening, forward a copy of the message to your ISP, and ask for their assistance. Instruct your child not to click on any links that are contained in e-mail from persons they don’t know. Such links could lead to sexually explicit or otherwise inappropriate Web sites or could be a computer virus.
“5. Remember that people online may not be who they seem. Because you can’t see or even hear the person it would be easy for someone to misrepresent him- or herself. Thus someone indicating that “she” is a “12-year-old girl” could in reality be a 40-year-old man.
“6. Remember that everything you read online may not be true. Any offer that’s “too good to be true” probably is. Be careful about any offers that involve you going to a meeting, having someone visit your house, or sending money or credit-card information.
“7. Set reasonable rules and guidelines for computer use by your children. Discuss these rules and post them near the computer as a reminder. Remember to monitor your children’s compliance with these rules, especially when it comes to the amount of time your children spend on the computer. A child’s excessive use of online services or the Internet, especially late at night, may be a clue that there is a potential problem. Remember that personal computers and online services should not be used as electronic babysitters.
“8. Check out blocking, filtering, and ratings applications. Be sure to make this a family activity. Consider keeping the computer in a family room rather than the child’s bedroom. Get to know their “online friends” just as you get to know all of their other friends.”