Safety (on the) 'Net

From Webkinz to e-mail and homework that requires Internet research, kids today live in a wired world. Teach them how to use the Web wisely.

internet safety
Photo: Alexandra Grablewski

Cyber Risk: Being Exposed to Inappropriate Content

What You Can Do: Take full advantage of safe-search filters that screen out explicit content on the search engines you use. Another option is to use kid-friendly searches such as Yahoo! Kids and or kid-friendly browsers like or You can also set up a favorites list together to cut down on the number of searches she needs to do. But remember, no parental controls are a substitute for your supervision and her education. Discuss the idea that there are things online that are inappropriate for kids and tell your child if she ever comes across something that seems weird or makes her uncomfortable, she should click the site closed and inform the nearest adult.

Cyber Risk: Sharing Personal Information

What You Can Do: You gotta have the talk. The Internet can seem abstract to a kid, so it's hard for him to understand that sharing information is a big deal. Plus, he's at an age where confiding information is a way of bonding with friends. Explain that keeping passwords and other personal information private is just as important as locking your house at night and staying away from strangers. Work together to make sure his username doesn't include any identifying details and that his password isn't easy to guess (it's a good idea to include numbers as well as letters). You don't want to scare your child, but you need to be frank about dangers. "Tell him that if something bad happens or he sees something upsetting, it's not his fault and he's not in trouble, but it's really important for him to tell you about it," says Parry Aftab, executive director of

Cyber Risk: Spending Too Much Time Online

What You Can Do: It can be tempting to leave your child clicking away in front of the computer while you're making dinner, but keep this in mind: It's just as important to supervise her online as it is to watch her at a playground (if not more so). Set a strict time limit for online play -- and if she's doing homework on the computer, make sure she's not distracted by games or instant messaging. Put your computer in a public space so you can check in often, make time to surf fun and informational sites together, and, most important, talk about what she's doing on the Web. "You have to get involved in your child's online life," says Robin Raskin, family Internet expert and Yahoo technology advisor.

Cyber Risk: Accidentally Deleting Your Files

What You Can Do: Set up a virtual safe space before you turn your child loose. Give him his own login on your operating system so he can't accidentally trash important documents or family photos. (But be sure you set his password together so you know it.) Install antivirus software and a pop-up blocker (like those offered by Norton or McAfee) if you don't already use them -- he'll be less likely to click on enticing bling or accidentally download spyware or viruses.

Cyber Risk: Online Bullying

What You Can Do: "Cyber bullying is a real problem, because kids don?t think it counts if you say something nasty online," says Raskin. "So children can say hurtful things, but without the social context of seeing a reaction to their words." This is mostly an issue for parents who allow chatting and e-mailing with friends -- something your child is probably already pushing for. If you do let her communicate online, make sure she's talking only to real-life friends, and use your chat program's privacy settings to block random people from sending her messages.

Online Chat Decoder

JK. BRB. TTYL. Huh? Find out what your kids are really saying with all those abbreviations.

  • BF: Boyfriend or Best Friend
  • GF: Girlfriend
  • BRB: Be Right Back
  • H&K: Hugs And Kisses
  • IRL: In Real Life
  • JIC: Just In Case
  • JK: Just Kidding
  • NP: No Problem
  • OMG: Oh My Gosh
  • P911: Parent Alert
  • POS: Parent Over Shoulder
  • TMI: Too Much Information
  • TTYL: Talk To You Later
  • G2G: Gotta Go
  • LOL: Laugh Out Loud
  • L8R: Later

At this age, your child probably isn't using these abbreviations, but it's a big red flag if someone is typing them to him.

  • A/S/L: Age/Sex/Location
  • MORF: Male Or Female?
  • PM: Private Message

Online Rules Every Kid Should Follow

Even the most compliant kid will balk when you bust out a big list of stuff she can't do. To get her on board, ask why she thinks each of these rules is important, and talk about why they keep her safe. Then write them down together and put them up near the computer.

  • Never share your personal information (like name, age, or location).
  • Never share your password.
  • Don't download games or programs, even if they're free, without getting Mom's or Dad's permission first.
  • Never click on e-mails from anyone you don't know.
  • Don't click on anything that pops up in another window -- even if it looks like a free game or a trip to Disney.
  • Always be polite and think before you type.
  • Never chat with someone who isn't your friend in real life.

Copyright © 2008. Used with permission from the February 2008 issue of Parents magazine.

Updated by Alexandra Grablewski
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