Tuesday, September 8, 2009

How to safeguard our youth


Internet - A Parental Guide (How to safeguard our youth)

Following presentation was delivered by the author at recent Focus on Islam events organised by the Department of Tabligh Canada.

Majlis Khuddamul Ahmadiyya Canada

As technology evolves and new inventions are introduced, we need to understand and experience them ourselves. Since we have the immense responsibility to educate our children about the new technology, we must explore the advantages and disadvantages that come with it.

The everyday uses of new technology have changed dramatically over time. For example, years ago, no one had to educate anyone about turning off cell phones when going for Namaz. However, today it is something that we have to constantly remind ourselves and our children. Video games provide another such example; the new Nintendo Wii has changed the way adults and kids play the video game. One only has to do a quick search on the ‘net’ to find out how many accidents people are having because they have not adapted to this new paradigm. Arguably, the most significant and widely used of these new technologies is the Internet.

The Internet is a valuable tool for adults, youth, and children. It has plenty of useful information and many online services that are of major benefit. There are, however, plenty of risks associated with these new Internet technologies.

It is in this context that we are bringing this guide to you. For your convenience, we have gathered information from various resources online and presented it here to educate, refresh and remind parents about the importance of knowing and understanding the Internet.

This is crucial as more and more children from across the country head online every year. A few years ago when the Internet was just beginning in popularity, teenagers and adults made up the majority of surfers. However today the age when users start to use the Internet has dropped, which means that younger kids can be found online. There are toys in the market that encourage children to go online to solve puzzles or download various updates. The result is that children as young as 2 and 3 know enough about computers that they can get to their favorite websites without any adult intervention

Parents often lack knowledge about their child's activities in terms of the programs that their children are using online. The fact is, parents should and must take a role in their child's Internet activities. Surfing the net is similar to any other activity. The Internet presents risks and dangers, just like riding a bike. .There are several things that we as parents can do to make the Internet safer for our children.

When children are first starting out, it is important for you to talk to them. The following are a few things you can do to encourage safe Internet use:

Set basic rules:

decide how long your kids can be online, what sites they can visit and what types of activities they can engage in.

Emphasize trust:

teach them that not everyone can be trusted and information such as age, addresses and phone numbers cannot be given out.

Show and Tell:

have kids show you what they enjoy doing online and discuss their Internet experiences with them (start this young so it continues when they get older).

Computer Location:

put the computer in a family room such as the den or the kitchen. It is recommended that you do not put the computer in your child's bedroom, so that you can be aware of what they are doing.

Encourage Questions:

a lot of things online are not as they seem and this anonymous world can be full of lies and manipulation. Motivate your children to doubt and scrutinize things online.

Be aware of their activities:

periodically check up on your kids and stay aware of their activities. Always maintain access to your child's online account and randomly check his/her e-mail.

Keep things in perspective:

remind your kids that although the Internet has plenty of dangers lurking, there is plenty of useful and helpful information out there for them.

Use Parental Control tools:

almost all Internet providers provide parental control software as a free service, which allow you to control to a large extent what your kids accesses on the net. The software can block adult chat rooms, inappropriate websites and instant/personal messages from unknown people.

Now that the basics of internet use have been laid out, it is time to become more familiar with the tools and activities our kids engage in while online. The Internet is more than a simple computer tool, and chances are your child is using new technologies with which you're not familiar. Hence, you need to become more computer literate and Internet savvy. Knowing how to use the internet and computer tools will help you in opening the lines of communication as you explore the internet together. The following is a list of the basic Internet tools that kids are using today:

  • Instant Messengers
    MSN, AOL, Yahoo and several other companies provide instant messengers (IM) that allow your kids to communicate in real-time with friends and strangers around the world. IMs have features of both chat rooms and e-mail. Once your child connects to the internet, any IM "friends" (people they have added to their contact list) can send a message to your child, instantly talking to them one-on-one. Most kids talk to their school friends using this software, but many also talk to strangers, since it is popular to create the longest list of contacts or "friends" as possible. Users also create online profiles as part of the registration for an IM service, that cyber predators can then use to target a child. The key here is to be aware of who is on your child's contact list and to emphasize to your child not to give out any personal details (including a photo) on their IM profile.
  • Chat rooms
    Chat rooms are found everywhere online and range from moderated rooms to those where anything can be discussed. In these virtual rooms, people can have real-time conversations with multiple, anonymous people at once. Chat rooms can be a great way to meet people from all over the world, but there is no way of knowing the true identity of the person with whom you are chatting. Children and youth tend to go in unmoderated "teen" rooms. However, even in moderated chat rooms, youth can engage in private unmoderated chats with strangers. The pivotal idea here is to make sure that your kids are using chat rooms safely. Teach them not only to never use their real name online, but to also use an appropriate nickname to avoid the wrong kind of attention (sexyteen66 is not an suitable name!). Understand which chat rooms your child is going into and why. Allow the use of moderated teen chat rooms and discourage the use of private unmoderated conversations in these rooms.
  • Message Boards/Newsgroups/Forums
    Like chat rooms, newsgroups, forums and message boards are geared towards reaching people with a common interest. You can find communities catering to health, education, hobbies, musical interests, celebrities, and much more. However, unlike chat rooms, messages are posted to the forums similar to the way e-mail works. The conversations that follow do not take place in real time. It is important to explain to your children that all messages posted in forums, message boards and newsgroups are public and anyone can read them and respond to them. Personal information should never be given out. It is also important to note that once something is posted to a newsgroup, it is archived forever on various servers on the Internet.
  • Blogging
    A blog is a short form for a "web log." Some popular blogging sites are Piczo, LiveJournal, Myspace, and Facebook. Blogging is one of the newest and hippest additions to the Internet. Blogs are like online journals, but can also include web links, images and video. Unlike a traditional diary, anyone online can read your blog, and often people can leave messages for you. The concern here is that some youth share too much personal information in their blog, such as hometown, school, friends' names, family information and addresses, or use their blog to spread malicious rumours and gossip about peers. Personal information can be used by a predator to bully, lure or stalk the blog's creator. Caution your kids to not post personal information in their blog, especially since it can remain on the Internet for years.

With this knowledge about the activities available on the Internet, parents are better equipped to monitor their child’s Internet explorations. Do remember that kids use the Internet mainly for socializing and entertainment purposes. They play games, instant message, and quite often they start losing track of time and stumble into inappropriate internet territory. The key is to create and enforce a set of rules regarding what they can and cannot do, and for how long. Using the Internet is just like any other household activity such as watching TV. There have to be limits and these limits must be set by the parents. The guidelines for safe internet use should be enforced diligently and parents stay up to date with their child’s activities. They must be alert and vigilant in order to spot the many warning signs that could indicate their child is in danger online. The following could be indications that your child is at risk On-Line:

  • Your child spends large amounts of time on-line, especially at night(time of greatest risk)
    They may go on-line after dinner and on the weekends.
    They may be latchkey kids where parents have told them to stay at home after school.
    They go on-line to chat with friends, make new friends, pass time, and sometimes look for morally questionable information.
    Also be conscious of your kids social behaviour. Does he or she have a questionable circle of friends. Kids make use of the internet to communicate with those parents prohibit them to see or talk to on the phone.
  • You find pornography on your child's computer
    This is a subject tabooed and not discussed, yet this problem is very real and does exist. These issues are discussed with your children in schools as well. So, it is imperative to be aware of them.
    Child pornography may be used to show the child victim that sex between children and adults is "normal."
    Parents should be conscious of the fact that a child may hide the pornographic files on diskettes. This may be especially true if the computer is used by other family members.
  • Your child receives or makes phone calls to suspicious numbers.
    Your child receives phone calls from men you don't know or is making calls, sometimes long distance, to numbers you don't recognize.
    While a child may be hesitant to give out his/her home phone number, these offenders will give out theirs. With Caller ID, they can readily find out the child's phone number.
    Others will tell the child to call collect. Both of these methods result in the offender being able to find out the child's phone number.
  • Your child receives mail, gifts, or packages from someone you do not know.
  • Your child turns the computer monitor off or quickly changes the screen on the monitor when you enter the room.
  • Your child becomes withdrawn from the family.
  • Your child is using an on-line account belonging to someone else.

What Should You Do If You Suspect Your Child Is Communicating With a Predator On-line?

Consider talking openly with your child about your suspicions: Tell them about the dangers of on-line predators.
Review what is on your child's computer: If you do not know how, various resources are available in the Jama`at to help. You can also contact Majlis Khuddamul Ahmadiyya Canada in confidence. Pornography or any kind of sexual communication is a very strong warning sign. Monitor your child's access to all types of live electronic communications (i.e., chat rooms, instant messages, Internet Relay Chat, etc.), and monitor your child's e-mail.
Use the Caller ID service to determine who is calling your child: Most telephone companies that offer Caller ID also offer a service that allows you to block your number from appearing on someone else's Caller ID. Telephone companies also offer an additional service feature that rejects incoming calls that you block. This rejection feature prevents offenders or anyone else from calling your home anonymously.

By taking the appropriate steps and maintaining awareness of your kids’ activities, the internet can not only be safe, but also an exciting information tool with seemingly unlimited possibilities.

Many additional resources are available on the internet, that deal with the issue of internet safety. We have included some useful links below for your reference:
http://www.safecanada.ca/link_e.asp?category=3&topic=94
http://www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/html/websafety_e.htm
http://www.fbi.gov/publications/pguide/pguidee.htm
http://www.safekids.com/articles/parents_can.htm
http://www.cyberpatrol.com
http://www.netnanny.com
http://www.cybersitter.com
http://www.cyberangels.org
http://www.getnetwise.org
http://www.safekids.com
http://www.smartparent.com
http://www.wisekids.org

If you have any questions or concerns we encourage you to contact us in confidence or any other resource of Jama`at. Majlis Khuddamul Ahmadiyya Canada's phone number is: 416.410.6522 or via e-mail you can contact us at tarbiyat@khuddam.ca.

Do’s and Don’ts of Internet Usage

Do:

  • Become more computer literate and Internet savvy.
  • Keep the computer in a "public" area in your house.
  • Communicate and talk with your children about their online activities and their online friends.
  • Check out parental controls available on your online service. Block adult chat rooms. Block Instant/Personal Messages from people you don’t know.
  • Always maintain access to your child's on-line account and randomly check his/her e-mail.
  • Install filtering/blocking software, or use a clean Internet Service Provider that filters at the server level.
  • Tell your children to let you know if anything seems strange to them, if they are asked personal ("Where do you live or what are you wearing" type) questions, or if their online friend invites them someplace.
  • Monitor changes in your child’s behaviour (mention of adults you don’t know, secretiveness, inappropriate sexual knowledge, sleeping problems, etc.) indicate a problem.
  • Set basic rules: decide how long your kids can be online, what sites they can visit or what types of activities they can engage in.
  • Emphasize trust: teach them that not everyone can be trusted and things like age, addresses and phone numbers cannot be given out
  • Keep things in perspective: remind your kids that although the Internet has plenty of dangers lurking, there is plenty of useful and helpful information out there for them

Don’t:

  • Don’t let your children have online profiles, so they will not be listed in directories and are less likely to be approached in children’s chat rooms.
  • Don’t go private into a private chat room.
  • Don’t give out personal information, including name, address, school they attend or teachers’ names, parents’ names, etc.
  • Don’t ever tell anyone where they will be or what they will be doing and they may never meet someone from online without you.
  • Don’t respond to rude or offensive e-mail, messages, or postings.
  • Do not allow your children to post their pictures in Messengers like MSN messenger, Yahoo Messenger, etc.
  • Do not allow your children to post, send or receive pictures online. Picture files end with GIF, JPG, or JPEG.

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