Dr. Way's Guide to Internet Safety

Helpful information for the busy parent

by Tom Way

Internet Safety means to protect yourself and your family from the hazards on the Internet while still making use of this extraordinary new medium for communication. To become a safe Internet user, you need to become educated about the uses and abuses of the technology, and the myths and realities of the medium.  By following these 7 steps you will improve your family's Internet Safety. A pdf version of the talk I presented recently is available here.

7 Steps to Internet Safety

Step 1: Location, location, location

Put the family computer in a "public" and easily visible location, such as the family room.  No computers or Internet in children's bedrooms.  Keeping the Internet out in the open is the single most important thing you can do to improve your family's Internet safety.

Step 2: Make clear rules and stick to them

Write down what the rules are for using the computer and Internet and stick to them. Make a contract that you all agree to. Make the consequence for not following the rules directly related to the rule that was broken. Using IM when you should be doing homework? No IM for one week.

Step 3: Make technology work for you

Use safety features of your browser to block undesirable web content.  Download free or low-cost software to handle spyware, spam and viruses.  These are now easy to download and install, and are becoming more and more effective at keeping you, your family, and your computer safe.

Step 4: Get Internet savvy

Educate yourself on solving computer and Internet risks and problems you and your family may encounter.  It is easier than you think. The first thing to try is to search in Google for a solution by typing in the exact text of an error message (inside double-quotes) or a few key words describing your problem.  Being able to tell myth from reality, recognize urban legends and fake virus emails are skills easily mastered as well. If you always approach the Internet with a healthy skepticism, it is hard to go wrong.

Step 5: Guard your privacy

Never give out identifying information unless you are CERTAIN where it is going. This includes not talking or emailing with strangers. Remember that no real company ever calls you on the phone to ask for your password, or sends you an email saying your account is about to expire. Donít reply to stranger (spam) email because this is how they can discover your email address and send you much more spam.  Setting up a free email address is a great way to control spam... give out the free address when you sign-up for things online, and abandon the address if it starts getting too much spam.

Step 6: Watch, watch, watch

Look over your child's shoulder from time to time when they are using the Internet.  Let them know you are watching.  Look through the web browser's "history" to see what sites have been visited. Be sure to pay extra attention to teens who walk the tightrope between wanting more independence but being adventurous and therefore more vulnerable to online dangers than younger children.  Look out for warning signs in your child's behavior.

Step 7: Be Curious

Be involved in your child's Internet use. Have your child teach you what they know. Ask questions. Ask them who each "buddy" is on the IM "buddy list." Get them to show you how to use IM, send email, search for pictures of their favorite celebrity, play games at Neopets.com.  Let them know you are interested by truly learning from them.  This will go a long way toward helping your child stay safe on the Internet.

For more information, contact Tom Way at thomas.way@villanova.edu

Updated 3/14/06