BATON ROUGE, La. — As the last day of school quickly approaches, many Louisiana children will suddenly have plenty of free time on hand. Attorney General Buddy Caldwell says that idle time during the summer months may lead to increased danger for children using the Internet.
“Internet access offers incredible opportunities for learning and entertainment, but parents need to know that there are some dark and dangerous off-ramps, especially for children, when surfing the web,” said Attorney General Caldwell. “The AG’s High Tech Crime Unit and Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force are working hard to keep kids safe online, but we also need the help of parents.”
Caldwell says without proper supervision, children can easily be exposed to inappropriate material and messages, be exploited by sexual predators and even become victims to unscrupulous con artists. Parents should establish ground-rules for accessing the Internet. Technical capabilities or lack of time may limit a parent’s involvement, but web surfing can be shaped into a family activity. Use a common sense approach to family Internet and keep the following tips in mind:
• Place the computer in a central area of the house such as the family room, den or kitchen.
• Establish specific times when access to the Internet is permitted and keep that schedule.
• Limit the length of access time. This will encourage your child to go directly to the information required, rather than aimlessly wander or surf the Internet.
• Explain to your children that many sites on the Internet are not appropriate for children or young adults, and they are expected to stay away from them.
• Make it clear to your child that you are aware that there is inappropriate material on the Internet, and that looking at such material is forbidden.
• Explain that if a website’s address has adult language in it, the site is not to be visited. If the child has access to a credit card, instruct the child never to give it out over the Internet.
• Instruct your child to talk to you if he or she ever finds anything on the Internet that makes them feel uncomfortable.
• Encourage communication with your children. Ask about their Internet experiences and what they have learned.
Red Flags for Parents:
• Secretive behavior on the computer.
• You feel unwelcome at an on-line session.
• Unexplained loss of capacity on the computer’s hard-drive. (It may be crowded with pornographic image files, which are typically very large).
• A sudden new friend you don’t know.
• Excessive time on the Internet.
• Hidden floppy or Zip disks which may be used for storage of inappropriate or illegal files.
More than a hundred technological hardware and software tools are available to help empower families to choose what material is appropriate for their children. These tools are specifically designed to promote child safety. With some programs, parents have the option of customizing the filtering device so that it reflects their family’s values.
Caldwell still cautions, however, that “parents need to be aware that blocking and filtering tools should not be used as substitutes for instituting Internet ground rules.” Even the best technology, he says, cannot protect your child from all the dangers in cyberspace.