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  My Child's Safety?
My ten year-old likes to use the internet and has found a site to chat on. How do I ensure that he is safe in the chat room?

Thank you for your question. You are right to have concerns, first, since most legislation deems your ten year-old to be "a child" and second, as the Internet is a large place utilized by many individuals. We commend you for taking an interest in your child's safety whilst online. Please know that participating online does not have to be a fearful activity for either you or your child. Rather it should be one that you and your child can actively share. As a parent you have taken the first step in ensuring your child's safety, just by asking for more information, and we hope that the following recommendations are of further assistance to you.

Be interested and actively involved in your child's online activities. It is important that you share with your child how important it is that you are aware of the sites they visit. Let them know that you are not there to spy on them. Explain to them that the Internet is no different to the real world when it comes to dangers. Just as you would explain to a child the danger of strangers or the importance of letting adults know of their whereabouts, you should explain that the Internet has some things to be wary of. However, you should stress that you want to make sure that their experience is a fun one - one that is not filled with fear or situations that can place them in harm's way.

First of all, go surfing with your child and have them show you the sites that they like the most. Ask them why they like the sites, and have a good look around together. Enjoy it and learn from it - there are some excellent sites out there! Get your child into the habit that you might be there when they surf. Also stress to your child that it is important that you are able to check any new sites they wish to visit before they actually access the site. This will allow you the opportunity to take a good look at the site and its offerings to make sure that it is suitable for your child.

This, of course, begs a question...what should you look for on a site to ensure safety?

A checklist for safety -- things you can look for.

1) Make sure the overall content of the site is appropriate for your child. This includes the content on the message boards or in a chat room. Feel free to pop into the chat room yourself to see what type of activity takes place.

2) Ensure that the site's community is moderated by trained individuals, and that these moderators are actively present and setting a good example for those participating in the community. If you are in doubt about how to tell a moderator from a regular user, you should write to the staff of the site, and ask.

3) Make sure that the site has visible guidelines/rules for participation. Please go over the guidelines with your child to ensure that they have a clear understanding of what is not acceptable from them or other participants. Many sites will have a section written for parents to explain these items as well as other information such as data protection and privacy.

4) Check to see that the site complies with COPPA (The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act) developed by the Federal Trade Commission. For more information on this Act and what it means, please feel free to visit the FTC's Kidz Privacy site. This is an excellent resource.

5) Check if the site allows private communication between participants, such as instant messaging. Ensure that you are happy with your child using that feature. If not, please check to see if that feature can be "turned off" for your child.

6) Check how the chat sessions operate - are there fixed times and topics, how are different age groups dealt with and differentiated, and are the chat rooms "open to all" or only to registered users with passwords?

And last, but certainly not least, have a conversation with your child about setting some personal rules for online participation. Let your child know that it is important that they follow these simple rules to make sure that they have fun, but remain safe:

1) Your child should NEVER agree to meet someone in person from online. This is critical, as there have been adults online who have posed as children. It is important that your child follow this rule for their own safety.

2) If a site offers instant messaging (IM) and you prefer that your child not participate, inform your child that it is important that they do not get involved in private chats. Tell them to ignore private messages, especially from people they do not know. (However, many private message tools provide you with the option of blocking all private messages. This will enable you to control whether your child is allowed to chat via IM.)

3) Tell your child to be wary of someone who is asking too many personal questions. If your child encounters someone who is asking too much, tell them to ignore that person in the chat or on the boards.

4) NEVER EVER give out personal information such as a phone number, address, e-mail address, school name, city where you live or school team's name.

5) If your child is asked to fill out any kind of form (e.g. for a competition, for registration and so on) ask that they consult you first so you can check the form to make sure you are happy with the information being asked for, and can supervise the information inputted. You should pay particular attention to data protection statements and any options such as being included on mailing lists.

Again, we thank you for your great question and we wish you and your child an enjoyable time on the 'Net.

- Jon Nix and Pam Thomas
http://communityanswers.com
http://cornerways.com
http://cwlive.com
 
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