How to Prepare Kids for the Internet

My older sister, Melaina, and I have each been on computers since each of us was about 4. We learned how to use word processors like WordStar and WordPerfect. We played some of the first really cool computer games, like Castle Wolfenstein and Wing Commander.
Published: May 16, 2005
Author: Michael E, Callahan

My older sister, Melaina, and I have each been on computers since each of us was about 4. We learned how to use word processors like WordStar and WordPerfect. We played some of the first really cool computer games, like Castle Wolfenstein and Wing Commander. Our Dad taught us how to use a computer as a tool. As a consequence we always had the coolest term papers in school, utilizing graphics and formatting before other kids even knew what it was.

My Dad was always online and for that reason, I guess, both my sister and I wanted to be online as well. At that time, about 1990, there was no access to the Internet, but there were online services like America Online and CompuServe. There were also thousands of bulletin boards all around the country. But, before either of us were allowed to go online we had to learn the rules. And I guess some of you might ask "Why?" Well, because online has always been a 'place' that was a bit mysterious. So, let me tell you the rules so you can tell them to your children. Today, with all of the things that transpire on the Internet, these rules are even more important than ever. So, take note. Tell your kids and make sure they follow these rules.

When in doubt, be SKEPTICAL! In other words, take all things with the proverbial grain of salt. Unlike traditional relationships where you meet a person face to face, when you meet people online you can't see them. And sadly many people online try to take the opportunity to improve themselves. So, they might make themselves taller, shorter, thinner, sexier, prettier, more handsome, stronger, more adventurous, and the like. Many people aren't totally happy with who they are so they see being online as a way to makes themselves the way they wish they were. They figure "What can it hurt? This person is never going to meet me" and in that respect they have a point. But, to me anyway, that kind of attitude isn't the best. You start out telling little lies and pretty soon you have to remember what you said.

The most important things to be skeptical about are AGE and GENDER! Why? Because some people are just insecure about themselves so they describe themselves in a way that is less than truthful. At the same time, however, someone lying to your child about the color or length of their hair is one thing. It's the creeps that lie about their gender or age that you have to worry about. Why? Because they often have ulterior motives. Older men go into chat rooms and pretend to be 16 instead of 45. Kids want to be loved and needed and so many will get to the point where they agree to meet someone in person. And that's when it can start to get scary!

Next rule - NEVER give out your address or phone number! Do you really know who you're giving this information to? NO, you don't! You only think you do. And would you post this same information in a public restroom? In a restaurant? On the side of your car? On the bulletin boards found in stores and post offices? Of course you wouldn't. So, WHY would you give this information to what really amounts to be a total stranger online? Ahhh, because you think you know who they are? Next point.

NEVER base your actions on a picture! A picture is just that -- a photograph of someone or something. There are countless photos in magazines. There are photos that all of us have of friends and family. And, to top it off, there are all these people on the Internet with a fetish for "PIX" as they're called. And they trade them back and forth. But, because some emails you a picture does not mean it's a picture of them, it just means it's a picture. Of someone. And to base your actions on a picture that someone sends you is foolish. It would be like me handing you a picture of someone 80 years old and saying, "This used to be me, but then I had this miracle surgery." Would you believe that? Let's hope not.

These are the key things to convey to your children if you are going to let them go online. If there are parental controls, use them if you feel the need. There are also a number of software programs that can regulate, monitor, and even track Internet usage. You wouldn't turn your child loose in a jungle, why would you turn them loose on the Web? These rules concern your childs personal and emotional safety. There are a few others.

Tell your children not to open email attachments from people they don't know. And, if possible, disable their ability to receive attachments. Email attachments are the most popular way of spreading viruses and worms. Tell them to only download software from large, reputable software sites like Tucows and others. Be sure you run anti-virus software and anti-spyware software on your computers. There are dangers lurking out there on the Internet and all of us have to be responsible. We all need to be careful.

In finishing up I'd like to say this. There are many wonderful, honest people who go online. Some of my fathers best friends are people he's met online. The Internet and the World Wide Web are bursting with information and knowledge. And just like a really busy city, they also have their dangers. You're an adult and if you make a mistake online you'll pay for it, but if your child does you'll both pay. And perhaps the price will be more than you bargained for. So, take the time to talk with you children. Lay down these rules. Put software measures in place if needed. Know where they surf to, what they look at, who they talk to. If everyone does this the Internet will be safer for all of us.

About Michael E, Callahan

Michael E. Callahan, known around the world by the trademarked name Dr. File Finder, is regarded as the world's leading expert on shareware. Dr. File Finder works with software programs and developers full-time, and in the average year he evaluates 10,000 programs. Since 1982 he has evaluated over 250,000 software and hardware products. Mr. Callahan began evaluating software online in 1982 and no one has been at it longer. He currently works doing online PR and marketing for software companies, and is the Senior Content Producer for Butterscotch.Com.

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