Kids And The Web

OK, this is sort of a rant but more a bit of HMHO (here’s my humble option – I think I just made that up). In the real world I spend half my time protecting the corporation from the evils of the web; viruses, spam, malicious active x controls and their ilk and the other half being big brother; content filtering, tracking internet usage, security monitoring. Being what that is I quite often get asked: Is it safe for my kids to surf the web?

When you start thinking about that its a vastly more complicated question than it initally appear. The simple answer is no – it is not safe. Nor is it safe to walk down the street, eat peanut butter or breathe the air in Bejing (sorry me bad PI). It really depends on what you mean by safe. Case in point – I work with a guy that refuses to let his kids watch the Simpsons – he thinks it sets a bad example for behaviour. OK fair enough – same guy puts his 7 year old son on a full size ATV and lets him rip around the coutryside over the weekend – eh? Seems like a bit of a contradiction to me – or maybe its just a body/mind things, maybe he just doesn’t like the Simpsons.

Nevertheless, back to the web. Yes for all you parents out there THE WEB IS A DARK AND DANGEROUS PLACE DO NOT LET YOUR KIDS SURF ALONE! OK I admit that was a scare tactic but realistically most people that ask this question don’t even know what they are afraid of. Seriously, people hear all kinds of things and have no idea; they hear what’s possible and assume its happening all the time. Really it isn’t there are a ton of great web sites out there that are really good for kids but you as a parent need to know about them and need to educate your kids.

But wait – isn’t there some ‘magic’ software that will keep my kids safe on the web (i.e. NetNanny, SurfSafe, etc). Sure, and really I have nothing against these products but they are inherintly flawed – they need to know about the bad things to protect against them – if they don’t know they are useless. Less than useless actually because they promote a false sense of security. In virus terms we refer to this ‘flaw’ as zero-day-attack.These products work on the basis of ‘blacklisting’ sites that are bad for kids. So when the software is told (usually by web updates) that is a ‘bad’ site the software prevents the computer from accessing it. Simple enough eh?

But what if the site is called; sound reasonable eh? Maybe not… what if some nefarious web-crawler has bought the rights to that domain name and turns it into a hard core porn site; see where I’m getting at.

OK, so getting to the point; what can you do?

1. Realize that we are a wired world. Blocking kids access to the web, texting or other technology is ludicrious – all it will do is hurt them socially and academically.

2. Realize that kids WILL be exposed to all kinds of bad stuff on the web its just a matter of when. It is up to you as a parent to prepare them to deal with it when it happens.

3. My most inflexible, no-negotiation rule. NEVER TALK TO, EXCHANGE INFORMATION WITH OR IN ANY WAY CORRESPOND WITH SOMEONE ON THE WEB YOU HAVE NOT MET IN THE REAL WORLD. Believe it or not enforcing this iron-clad rule will keep you kids away from the worst of it.

4. When your kids do get onto a social networking site; at least insist on one that uses some form of blocking mechanism. That way if an online personality is harrassing your kid; you can block them and there done. But you say they can just go a get another account and continue the harrassment – see point 3 above and 5 below.

5. Encourage your kids to use a ‘pay-for-access’ site. What pay?? Are you kidding? Everything is free on the web? Yes, true but with that freedom come anonimity. Once you have to pay the site admins have a real trail back to a real person. They can find you! Yes, I know identify theft and all but, again you are cutting out a huge percentage of risk just by doing this.

OK, off the soapbox for now.