Online Learning and Safety

by: Annette M. Hall
Updated: January 1, 2006

The sky is the limit!

With the Internet so widely available, many parents are combining education and the Internet to enhance their child's educational endeavors. This dynamic duo has opened doors, never before possible. Simply type your search terms into your favorite search engine and presto you have a world of information at your fingertips.

Students today can take a virtual tour of Yosemite National Park and experience the magnificent views first-hand, they can discover the frozen wonder of Antarctica without leaving the warmth of home. From algebra to zoology and everything in between, you will find a veritable smorgasbord of ideas, lessons and information availabe online.
[See also: Lifelong Learning and Technology]

What About Safety?

We start when our children are little, we teach them "stranger danger" and instruct them on how to properly cross the street. Yet how many parents take the time to see that their children are properly instructed in how to protect themselves online?

It seems so safe, so enticing and anonymous to our young people. After all isn't everyone honest about who they are and where they live? As parents it's our job to teach our children about safety and protect them against the dangers that lurk in chat rooms, blogs and online forums.

While we may trust our children, can we really trust in the integrity of the strangers they meet online? Our children may take it personal and accuse us of not trusting them, if we attempt to monitor their online experience, their e-mail and the people they communicate with but it really isn't a matter of trusting them. We need to take the time to help them to understand our concerns, without frightening them out of their wits.

Our Home

My son is 9-years-old, he has his own computer and he's connected to the Internet. How do we as his parents protect him? His computer sits a few feet away from mine, I have full-view of his computer screen at all times.

We actually encourage him to use his computer, explore it's contents and learn how to operate the programs on it. He has his own web page, which he maintains himself. He has earned the right to have yahoo messenger installed and communicates with a few of friends and family members. This has helped his typing skills and his spelling ability tremendously. Though he does IM me quite often, asking for spelling help.

He is not allowed to use a search engine -- yet. We use yahoo to send him links when he asks for one. If he wishes to do an Internet search daddy or I will sit with him to be certain he doesn't stray off the beaten path.

We have a computer business and our son is expected to maintain his own system. He's been taught how to keep his own system updated and often helps me when I have trouble with Photoshop, a program which gives me fits. My son has been very adept at using it since he was 5 years old, though it shames me to admit it, he is much better with it than I am.

Still we consider the computer a privilege and a tool. His e-mail address is known only to a select few trusted family members, his father and I both receive copies of every e-mail sent to his address.

There have been times when our son has ignored the rules we have established for him and during those times we have been firm but understanding. We explain our position, why we feel the way we do and invite his comments. Sometimes we revise the rules and at times he has lost either his Internet connection or the computer itself.

Our philosophy is, "To whom much is given, much is required."

As he grows, matures and proves his ability to put safety first, the restrictions we have in place for him will be relaxed, until he has earned the right to manage his own online experience. Our primary concern is his safety, which we take dead seriously.

Online Exposure

In more cases than not children expose themselves online and reveal information they would never disclose to a stranger on a street corner. They post their pictures, full names (20%), their location (59%), age (67%) and other pertinent details that could enable anyone with a computer and a little time, to easily locate them.

How can we as parents allow our children a rich online educational experience, keep them safe and maintain a trusting relationship all at the same time? It's not easy but it can be done.

Parents need to get serious about online privacy. Occasionally type in your full name and the names of your children, the results will surprise you. Do the same with your telephone number and even your address. Knowing what information is available about you online can help you protect yourself and your children from online predators, stalkers and identity theft, which is running rampant these days.

Make an effort to have information expunged when possible. You can opt-out of many online directories and information services.

Parental Tips

Technology Gap

If you are a parent who is at a technical disadvantage and your child actually knows more than you, regarding that new computer, which has wormed it's way into your family. All is not lost. Ask your child for assistance, take a computer class, get with the program. Ignorance is no excuse. You owe it to your children's safety to learn.

You can start by learning to keep your computer safe. If your system has been compromised all the safety efforts in the world won't protect you or your children. Visit SaferPC to learn how to protect your computer from virus attacks, spyware and adware, which can harm not only your computer but compromise your system and your safety.

The computer is a wonderful tool that will enrich our child's education experience and provide untold hours of enjoyment but safety must take priority. We owe it to our children to teach them how to properly use these tools in a safe enviroment.