Police: Online Safety
NEW: Brief (PDF) list of mobile apps parents should know about (Feb. 2016)
Millions of people connect with the internet everyday, whether on social media, apps, or sitting at a traditional desktop computer. Online services were initially oriented towards adults, but that's changed dramatically over the years. An increasing number of schools are online and, in many homes, children are logging onto mobile devices and home computers. As a parent you need to understand the nature of these systems to make sure everyone is logging on safely.
As with any activity -- traveling, cooking, or attending school -- there are some risks. The online world, like the rest of society, is made up of a wide array of people. Most are decent and respectful, but some may be rude, obnoxious, insulting, or even mean and exploitative.
Children and teenagers get a lot of benefit from being online, but they can also be targets of crime and exploitation in this as in any other environment. Trusting, curious, and anxious to explore this easy-to-access world and the relationships it brings, children and teenagers need parental supervision and common sense advice on how to be sure that their experiences in cyberspace are happy, healthy, and productive.
What Are the Risks?
Teenagers are particularly at risk because they often use the computer unsupervised and because they are more likely than younger children to participate in online discussions regarding companionship, relationships, or sexual activity. Risks can include exposure to inappropriate material or provide information or arrange an encounter that could risk his or her safety or the safety of other family members. In a few cases, pedophiles have used online services and bulletin boards to gain a child's confidence and then arrange a face-to-face meeting. A third risk is that a child might encounter messages and mobile apps that are harassing, demeaning, or belligerent.
How Parents Can Reduce the Risks
While children need a certain amount of privacy, they also need parental involvement. There are programs and apps designed specifically to enable parents to prevent children from accessing inappropriate materials on the web. These tools, while not foolproof, are useful for helping parents control children's access, but they cannot take the place of parental involvement and supervision. The internet and some private bulletin boards contain areas designed specifically for adults who wish to post, view, or read sexually explicit material. Most private bulletin board operators who post such material limit access to people who attest that they are adults but, like any other safeguards, be aware that there are always going to be cases where adults fail to enforce them or children find ways around them.
The best way to assure that your children are having positive online experiences is to stay in touch with what they are doing. One way to do this is to spend time with your children while they're online. Have them show you what they do and ask them to teach you how to access the services.
While children and teenagers need a certain amount of privacy, they also need parental involvement and supervision in their daily lives. The same general parenting skills that apply to the "real world" also apply while online.
If you have cause for concern about your children's online activities, talk to them. Also seek out the advice and counsel of other computer users in your area and become familiar with literature on these systems. Open communication with your children, utilization of such tech resources, and getting online yourself will help you obtain the full benefits of these systems and alert you to any potential problem that may occur with their use.
Guidelines for Parents
By taking responsibility for your children's internet use, parents can greatly minimize any potential risks of being online. Make it a family rule to:
Never give out identifying information -- home address, school name, or telephone number -- in a public message such as chat or bulletin boards, and be sure you're dealing with someone that both you and your child know and trust before giving it out via E-mail. Think carefully before revealing any personal information such as age, marital status, or financial information. Consider using a non-gender "Screen Name" or unlisting your child's name if your service allows it.
Get to know the services your child uses. If you don't know how to log on, get your child to show you. Find out what types of information it offers and whether there are ways for parents to block out objectionable material. See the PDF article at the top of the page for specific mobile apps considered dangerous for children to use without parental oversight.
Never allow a child to arrange a face-to-face meeting with another web user without parental permission. If a meeting is arranged, make the first one in a public spot, and be sure to accompany your child.
Never respond to messages or bulletin board items 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 the app provider, and ask for their assistance in blocking or removing the harassing account.
Should you become aware of the transmission, use, or viewing of child pornography while online, immediately report this to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children by calling 1-800-843-5678. You should also notify your online service.
Remember that people online may not be who they seem. Someone indicating that "she" is a "12-year-old girl" could in reality be a 40-year-old man.
Remember that everything you read online may not be true. Be very careful about any offers that involve your coming to a meeting or having someone visit your house.
Set reasonable rules and guidelines for technology use by your children (see " Rules for Online Safety" below as a sample). Discuss these rules and post them near the computer as a reminder. Remember to monitor their compliance with these rules, especially when it comes to the amount of time your children spend on the computer.
For further information please contact the Community Relations Department at 847-882-1818.