If the answer to the above question is “no,” why would you let your children surf the Internet unsupervised? In other words, your job as a parent is a full-time job and means being involved with your children to the point of protecting them from Internet predators. You may believe that the software installed on your computer will do the job for you, but unfortunately there are now so many devices that allow them access to the Internet you need to monitor each and every device that your children have access to. These devices may seem as essential to their well-being as air and include such items as cellphones (so you can reach them and insure their safety), tablets, and gaming consoles (for entertainment while traveling or while you cook dinner), or HDTV with Internet access (meant to access educational channels for home-schooled children).

Today’s technology has, indeed, made our once seemingly simple solution to Internet access much more complicated since we can no longer simply set an administrative password to prevent children from logging in at will. However, even if we incorporate the most advanced software to filter out unsavory sites, such as porn sites, while strictly monitoring our children when they are home, we cannot monitor them in public libraries, schools, or cyber cafes. Besides that, our children are being so well-instructed in computer skills that they are now savvy enough to circumvent most parental safeguards and possess the know-how to erase their tracks. Additionally, parents are now expected to respect their children’s privacy, meaning that they are poised with the added burden of determining how to confront a child about inappropriate Internet surfing without letting the child know that they have been snooping.

Would You Invite a Predator into Your Home to Have Dinner with Your Children?Social networking sites are another area that can create yet another challenge for parents since it is an ideal place for predators to disguise themselves as anyone they choose to be. When I say predators, I don’t always have to be referring to sex perverts. For example, a predator can come in the form of another person, be it an adult or a fellow student, who chooses to use the site to defame, embarrass, or otherwise bully your child. As a parent, you must also be aware of the dangers that can arise from your tween or teen sexting via cellphones. This type of communication between young people has become much more common than you think and can lead to your greatest nightmare.

So, while all of these examples lurk somewhere outside of our control, we need to be as vigilant as possible to minimize these particular dangers. However, I personally find it more disturbing that these devices seem to be resulting in our children losing the essential art of old-fashioned verbal conversation. I have personally witnessed this in our church’s youth group when I watched two kids sitting next to each other texting (to each other) instead of talking. When I mentioned to the staff here at LockerGnome my intentions of writing this article, Jake Ludington wrote me a response that I want to share:

You might want to take this a step further and include info on monitoring cell phone usage, including texting. I know Chris Burgress, who spoke on the Gnomedex stage about bullying, mentioned that he and his son had an agreement about being able to check the phone for text messages specifically, so that he knew who his son communicated with. Burgess seemed to think it helped keep his son safe.

I gave this some thought and wanted to confirm my suspicions before I ventured further. You see, I believe that if I were a juvenile and I wanted to text someone, without my folks knowing, I would just use someone else’s phone. Given my suspicions, I conducted an unscientific survey by posing the question, “How would you text or contact someone without your parents knowledge?” to the youth group at church. I wasn’t surprised when the majority responded that they would just use a friend’s cellphone or find a public computer that would allow them to surf where they pleased. One enterprising youth even stated that he used his own savings to purchase a throwaway cell phone to use for his private texting, saving his parent-provided cellphone for safe conversations that his parents could monitor. That way he didn’t have to worry about getting caught. Others in the group commented that they felt that parents contributed to the problems of cellphone texting by purchasing unlimited plans that they could not possibly have the time to filter through.

So how can you protect your children from online predators and unsavory Web sites? I believe the answer is simple. Sit down with your children and speak with them about your concerns. Explain the hazards you believe they may encounter and why you want them to be safe. It is basically the same thing a parent does when they give their young teen the keys to the family chariot. Parents can tell their teen they will take away the car keys if they are caught drinking (especially while driving), or driving with other teens in the car, and while this is sound advice that we hope and pray that the kids will listen to, we all know that they are going to do what they choose. This happened just last year, when four teens were killed after a drinking teen driver lost control of the car and ran off the road. His parents had given the teen the same talk, which seemed like a million times to them, but the child chose to ignore their warnings and advice.

Here are a few tips on how to protect your kids online:

  • As a parent, educate yourself and learn the newest cyber threats directed towards children.
  • Set guidelines for your kids as to the amount of time they can spend surfing after their schoolwork is done.
  • Get the computers out of the bedroom. As I am writing this, our grandson is surfing the Internet via a laptop computer in our living room.
  • Check the browsing history to see where your child has been.
  • Check the child’s text messages. Have an agreement with your kids that this is a rule not subject to discussion.
  • Most important, talk to your kids and discuss your concerns. Do this because you love them and not because you want to cramp their style.
  • If you suspect that your kid has become a victim, call the police. Most cities or states have some type of cyber crime investigation section that can help.
  • Talk with your kids. Ask them questions and learn if anyone is picking on them — by cyber bullying — online.
  • Talk to other parents and see if their kids have been victims of any inappropriate online behavior.
  • Stay alert and vigilant to what your kids are doing online.

So, will trying all of these suggestions keep your kids 100% safe? Of course not, but it will help you keep the lines of communication open and establish a better trust relationship between you and your teens as you explain your concern for their safety and well-being. Some of you may disagree with my suggestions and think that I am harsh in my recommendations about spying on your kids. If you are one of those parents, you may find yourself being one of thoseĀ feel good parents who believes your kids should be free spirits. if that is the case, I wish you well in raising your children. For the rest of us who believe that a little discipline, along with trust, love, and understanding is a better way to raise our children, take the time to try these 10 recommendations.

Comments welcome.