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Kids and Computers.  They know a lot, but do they know enough to be safe?  There are many things you can do to protect your children on the internet, as well as protect your computer from your kids!  No software or plan is foolproof.  Educate your children and yourself.  Find the rules that fit for your household.

First, recognize the warning signs:

  • Change in computer usage, particularly on-line sessions late at night

  • Change in behavior, including withdrawal from the family

  • Interaction with strangers, whether email, making or receiving phone calls, or receiving gifts

  • Pornography on their computer, or quickly changing the screen or turning off the monitor when you come into the room

If you suspect anything, take action!  Talk to your child.  Investigate further - review what is on their computer including email and web activity.  Review telephone records.  Seek help.  The New Canaan Police Department's youth officer is experienced, trained and knowledgeable in this area and can be reached at 594-3500.

To help avoid problems, here are some suggestions for parents:

Set the tone for acceptable computer behavior.  Whether 5 or 15, use of the computer is a privilege, and you should let them know what the limits are.  Separate computer playtime (games, recreational surfing, music, email and chat) from computer homework time (research, writing) and regulate playtime as you do television and Playstation time.  Establish rules about email (if you allow it) including with whom they are allowed to correspond.  Same goes for instant messaging.  Reinforce what you have been teaching them about strangers - it applies to the internet as well.  Children should never give their name, age, sex, phone number, address, or any other personal information to any person or website without talking to their parents first.  Do not post profiles!

Parental controls.  If you are uncomfortable exposing your children to the things you see regularly on the internet, parental controls can block much of the seedy content.  This is available through AOL as well as with other software packages.  Some devices can restrict the time of day that each computer has access to the internet.  Email filters can filter out spam, including messages inappropriate for children.  

Put the computer in a "community" area, where you will be able to see what they are doing.  Not in their bedroom!!  Even if you are not looking over their shoulder all the time, they know you might walk by and see what they are doing - and they will be less likely to be doing things they think you may not approve of.

Review what they are doing.  You can receive a copy of all email they receive.  You can review what websites they have visited in the last month.  Of course, they can delete this information - but that should be against the rules and result in loss of privileges or other disciplinary action.  You should know ALL their passwords and have access to their email and computer files.

Protect your computer.  While protecting your children is the most important, there is nothing more aggravating than when they download junk from the internet and mess up your computer.  Best thing is give them their own computer to mess up, and let it be their problem to fix it when they break it.  In the meantime your computer, with the books for your business, personal finances, and other important information is still working fine.  While you may not be able to keep them off your computer, you can still keep your files private and secure, and have "special" rules governing the use of your computer.

For more information, see A Parent's Guide to Internet Safety published by the FBI and the Federal Trace Commission's Information Security Website on identify theft.  Netsmartz.org is a good educational site for children ages 5-17 and parents.  You may also visit the kidsmartz website maintained by the Department of Justice, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at www.missingkids.com.  iSafe.org has a comprehensive education program for children and parents.  An overview of their curriculum is here.  DatelineNBC had been doing a series on internet predators; you can read/view video about it here.  Getnetwise.org has suggestions on age-appropriate guidelines and rules for kids.

Here are some additional resources:

Looking at colleges?  Check out the crime statistics at the Department of Education here, and find crime statistics for specific colleges here.   Before they head off to college, you and your child should look at www.securityoncampus.org and www.girlsfightback.com

Almost one in seven children received an unwanted sexual solicitation on the Internet in the past year.  That is actually the good news - this is a 50% reduction from a study done 5 years earlier.  The alarming change is that harassment is up, as well as unwanted exposure to pornography.  The Youth Internet Safety Study is the source for these and many other facts and statistics quoted about kids and the internet.  It was first conducted in 2000 (YISS-1) and then again in 2005 (YISS-2), and a third study is being planned (YISS-3).  The Department of Justice funded the surveys, and they were conducted by the University of New Hampshire Crimes Against Children Research Center.  View the 2005 report here or go to the UNH website and see more information and analysis from these studies as well as research based on data collected about crimes against children (National Juvenile Online Victimization study) conducted in 2000 and 2001.

See more about what we offer as protection and privacy services here.

Here are answers to some common questions:

What are MySpace.com and Facebook.com and are they appropriate for kids?  These websites allow users to have their own webspace where they can post information about themselves and others, including pictures, and have on-going communications with friends.  Like anything else, it should be used in an appropriate way based on age.  I recommend they have a private profile that only their names friends can see, and that it NOT be used to meet new people or communicate with strangers.  They should also NOT take the place of direct communication (face-to-face, telephone) with friends, but rather supplement it.  It IS a good way of staying in touch with friends and relatives that are not nearby - sort of like an interactive "Christmas Letter" to keep up with people.  Content is a concern - kids often post messages and pictures they would never share directly with friends, including sensitive personal information or less-than-flattering comments about others.  A good test ask them if in 30 years they were running for President or were nominated to the Supreme Court, do they think a printout of their current MySpace site would be helpful or detrimental.

What can I do about the sexually-explicit email that keeps getting sent to my child's email account?  Unfortunately, there is not much that can be done about spam.  Most email programs (including Outlook) allow you to create rules to filter email.  Your mail provider (usually your ISP) may also have spam filtering available - ask them.  The new version of Outlook (Outlook 2003) has very sophisticated spam filtering.  Do not open or reply to the mail, and it is generally better not to respond to links to remove your name from the mailing list.

Can I remove the "Sex" sites from Google search results?  YES!!  From the Google search page, click on "preferences" (to the right of the search box) and select "strict filtering" next to SafeSearch Filtering.  We strongly recommend using adult content filtering from OpenDNS.com which we have found to be over 95% effective in blocking sexually explicit content.

Can someone really reach through the internet and harm my child?  YES!  And it happens to well educated children from good homes in New Canaan.

Is it possible to be too strict with the computer?  YES!!  The computer is no different than anything else.  If you are too strict in your home, they will go to a friend's house where there are fewer restrictions.  You need a balance of trust and monitoring at a level appropriate for your child.

What software do you recommend for Parental Controls?  We strongly recommend using adult content filtering from OpenDNS.com which we have found to be over 95% effective in blocking sexually explicit content.  There are several "parental control" software options available that you may want to consider in your overall internet child protection strategy - but remember they are only part of the solution.  Windows has parental controls built in - just go to the Control Panel and select Parental Controls.  AOL Parental Controls are a good first step if you are an AOL subscriber.  Symantec, maker of Norton AntiVirus, has extended their product suite into parental controls with Norton Internet Security.  Other products to look at are Cybersitter, Cyber Patrol and Guardian Monitor that block content according to your settings, and Cyber Snoop which lets you better monitor internet activity.  We have also implemented remote monitoring software for many purposes, including watching what is going on at one PC from another - either at home or through the internet.  We are reluctant to make a single recommendation since the products are changing constantly, and your particular objectives have to be taken into account.  There is no substitute for parental supervision.

 

Please make backups!  We are not responsible for data loss under any circumstances!! 
A hard disk can fail at any time and there is nothing we can do about it.  Please make backups before your appointment, before you bring your computer to us, or ask us to make backups before working on your computer.

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