Internet Safety

Warnings about dangers lurking on the Internet appear almost daily – so much so that many regard them as routine. 

For many years, parents have been advised to keep family computers in a public place, purchase anti-virus software and ensure that children do not release personal information over the Internet. These practices form an excellent foundation for safety, but are not complete.

It is important that you emphasize safe behavior at all times. Use current news stories as teachable moments to reinforce safe Internet practices.  The more a child adopts safe Internet practices as a standard behavior, the safer that child will be. With so many different ways to access the Internet, you should be aware of the places where your child logs on because you may not always be present.

  • A friend’s house. Check with the friend’s parents to understand  their Internet policies. Don’t assume that other parents share the same concerns for safety. If there is an older sibling, be certain he or she will follow safe practices.
  • At school. Typically, schools block instant messaging, chat rooms and many websites, though you should confirm that is the case.  You should be aware of both the Acceptable Use and Privacy policies for the school and how they protect your child.
  • Smartphones. Every smartphone should contain protection like anti-virus software. Texting and some other services can be limited by time of day, and specific numbers can be blocked. If bullying via texting is occurring, recording software is available. 
  • Email. Messages should never contain personal data unless the email is encrypted (or on a HIPAA compliant site – such as one maintained by a hospital). Group email should be distributed using the BCC (blind carbon copy) field, not the “TO” or “CC” field.  This insures that email addresses are not vulnerable if one member’s computer is hacked. 
  • Social networking. Cyberbullying is increasingly common.  It takes many forms and utilizes many different technologies.  In minutes, a fake and derogatory page can be established, inviting posts and forwarding those posts to the intended victim.  Some sites will take action, others might not. Parents should stay involved and know how to report bullying to appropriate contacts at school and/or in law enforcement.

The sheer volume of potential issues is overwhelming. For that reason, you should focus significant effort to develop the “filter between a child’s ears.”  There is no software that will provide 100 percent protection. There is no school that can monitor 100 percent of its students’ activity. Parents need to take the time to reinforce safety-focused behavior in their children.

Be sensitive to subtle changes in your child’s behavior and remain open so your children will feel comfortable coming to you with issues, concerns or threats. None of this is easy or pleasant, but all of it is necessary to insure the safety of our children in cyberspace. 

Dr. Bob Bergamini is a pediatric oncologist with Mercy Children’s Hospital St. Louis, and lectures in area schools on a variety of topics, including Internet safety.

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