A Parent's Guide to Supervising a Child's Online and Internet Experience

Online Children's Safety

Version 1.1 Updated: March 4, 1997

by Robert Cannon

© Copyright 1997, Robert Cannon. May be freely copied in full. Credit to the author must be retained. No fee may be charged for the distribution of this FAQ.

The Internet is a wonderful world of new opportunity for children. It is a colossal dynamic library filled with information, programs, art, games, material, and new opportunities to meet people. It is the opportunity to expand minds and experiences, and to develop skills necessary for the future. However, this new environment also creates risks that your child might be exposed to undesirable material and people. There are numerous sites providing sexually explicit information, violent content, technical information on how to build things such as bombs, and hate speech. Other sites and individuals seeks to gather information from children that you may feel uncomfortable providing. The purpose of this FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) is to provide parents with suggestions that will empower them to effectively supervise their child's Internet experience.

What is the Internet?

The Internet is a global, decentralized network of computers taking advantage of common protocols permitting the transfer of information. No individual, company or government controls the Internet. The most frequently used areas of the Internet are the World Wide Web, e-mail, USENET newsgroups, FTP, and the IRC.

The World Wide Web is the multimedia area of the Internet. A WWW page can look like a magazine page. WWW browsers permit users to view text, photographs, audio, and video. Individuals can also access data and programs. WWW sites can be found by typing a few key words into a search engine and, within seconds, receiving a list of sites containing those words. Punch in the word "playboy" and you will get a list of the "Playboy Magazine" web pages and of other sites that contain the word "Playboy".

FTP stands for File Transfer Protocol. FTP sites are directories of files of all types. These files can be in any form and can be found with search engines. The difference from the WWW is that FTP files are not readily viewable or usable; the files must be downloaded and then viewed or used through the appropriate software programs.

E-mail is electronic mail through which users can exchange messages. Although normally e-mail messages are text, messages can include pictures or sound files. E-mail addresses of users can be readily attained through different search engines and online databases.

The USENET is a bulletin board area of the Internet. Individuals post messages and browse for responses at unmoderated USENET sites. The messages normally remain on the bulletin board for a limited time period. Individuals search for the most appropriate bulletin board for the subject desired. At a given site hundreds of messages will be posted about that subject. Messages can also be posted which are irrelevant to the subject. Messages can be text, programs, sound files, or pictures.

A Listserver is a cross between E-mail and USENET. It is an e-mail discussion group dedicated to a particular topic. Messages sent to the listserver are then broadcast out to all of the subscribers. Some Listservers are moderated where others are not. People not subscribed to a listserver generally are unable to view the content of the discussion of the subscribers. Listservers are usually composed of a core group active in discussion and a periphery group known as "lurkers" who read the list but rarely participate in the discussion.

The IRC is the "real-time" live, unmoderated chat rooms. Each room has a name that may relate to the subject matter discussed. A user can usually find an IRC chat room on virtually any subject. Again, even though a subject matter is designated, messages on any subject matter can be posted.

Supervising Your Child

Most parents complain that their children are more computer literate then they are (parents argue that they are still attempting to figure out how to program their VCRs). They cannot comprehend how they can possibly supervise their child's experience on the Internet. What follows is a list of suggestions that should help. Not all of these suggestions may be acceptable to you. Which suggestions you use will depend in part in your belief in your child's right to privacy and ability to make mature decisions. This FAQ provides parents with an ability to make choices.

Parent must always remember the investment that they have made, both in the child and in the computer. If they commit the time necessary for such a significant investment, parents can make their child's experience both positive, productive, and educational.

Other resources you may wish to consult include

  • Monitor your credit card bill. Many adult Internet sites require credit cards in order to gain access. If your credit card is used, you should have a record of it.
  • Inquire into child accounts. Some online services have special accounts especially geared for children, with restricted access to chat rooms and the Internet.
  • Tell your child not to play with strangers. The Internet version of this means never tell a stranger personal information. Teach your child to never give out your address, your phone number, or any personal information.

    1. Some individuals desire to harm children. Others seek to gather market research, raising privacy concerns. These people entice children to their site with graphics and games. These sites can be packed with advertisements. They may reward children for providing personal information, their likes and dislikes, and information concerning their friends. They may e-mail your child with more advertisements, request more information, and request that they return to their advertisement laden sites.

      Some services set up user profiles when setting up accounts. This information can be accessed by the public through commands such as WHOIS. Be careful when setting up accounts that the information provided will not be publicly available.

    The Internet is a wonderful new opportunity for children. As with everything, the quality of a child's experience will be directly related to a parent's investment in that experience. If you take the time, you can make that experience positive and productive.

    Author welcomes suggestions and comments. Software products listed for informational purposes only; no endorsement has been made or should be implied.