Are you wondering if your child can surf the internet safely? Today on Home School Heartbeat, internet safety author Donna Rice Hughes helps you learn how to create a safe online environment.
Mike Farris: I’m joined today by Donna Rice Hughes. She’s the president and CEO of Enough is Enough, and she’s an experienced internet safety leader and that is a great organization. Donna, welcome to the program.
Donna Rice Hughes: Thank you so much for having me, Michael.
Mike: Donna, you’ve come up with a toolkit of “Rules and Tools” to help families stay safe on the internet. Can you tell us a bit about them?
Donna: Absolutely. First of all, let me say this: Parents must be the first line of defense to protect their children from all kinds of dangers online, whether it be hardcore pornography, sexual predators, and cyber-bullying. That said, we believe that the best way for parents to do this is to implement both safety rules and software tools to protect their children online.
Now, the safety rules are the nontechnical measures, and the software tools are the technical measures, and they’re better known as parental controls. And both are essential and must be implemented on all internet-enabled devices, including laptops, tablets, smartphones, and gaming devices.
But even more important, it’s key for parents to focus on the positives of the internet, while they’re also teaching their children about the dangers and how to make wise choices online.
Mike: The first tool to talk about is time limits. Do you have some rules of thumb for setting those limits?
Donna: Well Mike, each child is different, and time control tools are part of most parental control tools that are offered. And they determine the time of day and length of time, and you can set those time tools accordingly per child.
Mike: Donna, when people think about internet safety, they often think of internet filters. How do these filters work, and how useful are they?
Donna: Filters are absolutely critical. And it’s key that parents set age-appropriate filters on all internet-enabled devices used by your children. Now filters can block categories of inappropriate websites such as pornography, violence, gambling, and illegal drug information. And they also allow the parents to set different levels of filtering for each child based on that child’s age and maturity. It’s really key that the parents realize their kids are not immune—in fact, nine in ten kids come across hardcore pornography often accidentally. And last of all, parents must be the first line of defense. It’s part of our God-given stewardship to raise them up and protect their innocence.
Mike: Are there any search engines that will stop children from wandering into dangerous sites?
Donna: Yes, there are. Bing, in fact, has proactively set the default on their search engines to a moderate level of filtering, which is terrific! We in fact encouraged Microsoft to do this when Bing was first launched. And Google does offer safe-search features; however, the parents must proactively set that level of a filtered search, and then also remember to set the parent-lock feature. And this feature is also available on YouTube.
Mike: Donna, what are some good ways to keep track of where our kids have been online?
Donna: Well, I highly recommend using the monitoring feature, which is usually included in most parental control tools. A monitoring tool will actually let the parent view where the kids are going or attempting to go, and for how long, and it also monitors incoming mail and messages. Many of these monitoring tools can send the parent a report card and also an alarm if the kids are going into dangerous territory online.
Mike: Donna, I think the answer to this might be self-evident, but when should families think about using software to monitor their children’s online activities?
Donna: Well, I recommend that parents consider using monitoring as soon as the kids start surfing the web and using social media. But it’s absolutely imperative if the parent suspects that the kid is involved in risky behavior, or the parent believes there may be predator activity involved.
Let me just say this about monitoring: I don’t believe in going stealth. I think it’s very important that parents let their kids know that they are implementing parental control tools not because they don’t trust the child, but because there are some dangerous people and dangerous content, and that’s their job as the parent.
Mike: Great idea. Donna, what ground rules should parents set for online chat rooms, or for audio chats?
Donna: Well Mike, chat rooms are just a problem for a lot of reasons, and I really recommend that parents disallow access to chat rooms and only allow live audio chat with extreme caution. And also, a lot of kids are using online gaming, and online gaming devices allow kids to not only play games with strangers but also talk via audio chat, and they can also see one another through videocams. And this is a predator’s dream come true, which is why it’s so important for parents to set up a preapproved list of people that your child can play games with or interact with on any other mechanism even outside of games.
Mike: In addition to the forms we’ve talked about, internet messaging, or IM-ing, is another big issue. Why is it so important for parents to preapprove their children’s IM contacts?
Donna: It’s important that parents know who their kids are interacting with. And if the parent doesn’t know them, I recommend that they don’t let their kids contact them by instant message, email, or anything else. And these preapproved parent lists are so key because kids are very trusting. And they often feel, if they’ve communicated with someone they only met online, that they’re their friend. Remember, no one—the parent or the child—can recognize the disguised predator or dangerous person.
Mike: You’ve shared some powerful tools with us this week, Donna. How do these tools work together to protect a family from online threats?
Donna: Well in addition to the safety rules, protecting kids requires the use of these software tools, better known as parental controls. And parental control software helps prevent objectionable content and dangerous people from gaining access to your child. Now a comprehensive suite of tools should include customizable filters, monitoring software, time management controls, and instant messaging and chat controls. And these parental controls need to be used on every internet-enabled device. That’s not just the desktop, but the laptop, and the gaming, mobile, and music devices.
And I know that sounds a little overwhelming for parents, but that’s why we’ve made it really simple with an easy rules-and-tools checklist. And I recommend parents print it out, put it on their computer and make sure anytime they get a new internet-enabled device for their kids, they go down the checklist and make sure they have implemented not just the tools, but then learn those nontechnical measures. Those are the commonsense measures that parents need to implement, and every parent can do this. You don’t have to be a computer geek, Mike, okay? So I just want to encourage parents: this is necessary. Keep your kids safe. Thank you so much.
Mike: Well, it’s not only necessary—it works! So Donna, thanks so much for giving families an effective way to protect themselves and their children while they’re using the internet. And thank you for joining us this week. I’m Mike Farris.