Caught in the Web

The Big, Bad Web

 

 

by Laura Emery, Field Editor

 

I was 17 and working part-time at the local library one evening when two young boys discovered some risqué reading material in one of our back rooms. After noticing that they’d spent an abnormally long period of time in the back with nary a parent in sight, I headed in the direction of the giggling and whispering to investigate their suspicious activity.

I apparently startled the youngsters, causing them to accidentally drop the book they had been intently browsing and turn scarlet with embarrassment. After staring awkwardly at me for a moment, they took off without saying a single word, winding their way through the bookshelves until they left the building and reached the safety of the parking lot. Need­less to say, I never saw those boys again.

In 2010, kids sneaking to get a peek at inappropriate books at their local library is nothing compared with what’s available on the World Wide Web. Parental supervision is now of paramount importance in this society where our freedom of speech, as granted by the Constitution, has been stretched to its furthest limit, and where our children are learning about the information superhighway in school, on television, from their friends, and through simple investigation. Their favorite stores promote their company websites — encouraging modern-day Little Red Riding Hoods to go skipping freely through the sites with hopes of finding all their favorite things. Little do they know that Big Bad Wolf websites can be found around every corner on the way to Grandma’s House — or, that is, their favorite website.

The World Wide Web can be a parent’s best friend and worst enemy. It parallels real life — complete with obnoxious and exploitive people, as well as the “good parts of town” and the “bad parts of town.” The key is to know where the bad parts of town are located and how to stop your children from wandering into these off-limit areas and subsequently meeting crude and exploitive wolves who take advantage of the Internet’s anonymity.

 A History Lesson

In addition to issuing repetitive reminders to use great caution when entering chat rooms and never divulging any personal information while surfing the World Wide Web, parents can also do some precautionary snooping. No flashlights or camouflage attire needed — just one tip on how to retrace your kids’ steps on the computer. Don’t think of it as invading their privacy. Rather, think of it as just being a little nosy for their own good.

After your kids finish surfing the web, open the web browser and click on the History button at the top, which will display a list of the sites your child visited. This is how you can discern to what extent your child’s Internet activity should be monitored.

A second option is to download software that will prevent your kids from making innocent mistakes that lead to inappropriate results. CYBERsitter (www.solidoak.com), Cyber Patrol (www.cyberpatrol.com), Net Nanny (www.netnanny.com), and KidsWatch (www.kidswatch.com) are all websites that provide concerned parents with software that will block adult-oriented content and graphic file downloads, as well as filter offensive terms and phrases from reaching your child’s curious eyes.

Watch the Mail

Another doorway through which Internet predators may sneak is your child’s e-mail account. Along with those messages written in a condensed anti-parent format that you haven’t quite mastered yet (ttyl, ruok, lol, sup, bcnu, l8r — look familiar?), may also be pornographic messages from unrecognizable sources. How do Internet companies gain access to your e-mail address? In some cases, your “cookie,” an identity file in your browser, is responsible for giving away your profile. Some websites track your name, e-mail address, the type of computer you’re using, and even the sites you’ve recently visited. Scary, huh? Again, cyberspace parallels the “real world.”

Most often used to accumulate visitor data (or, as they claim, “to give you a more personalized browsing experience”), your cookie is solicited at most of the sites you visit. Therefore, if you visit the wrong site, you may be bombarded with pesky junk e-mail messages that are unavoidable. Arm yourself with cyberspace’s version of pepper spray — anonymity. Conceal your cookie by changing your Internet security options. The drawback: Being anonymous may prevent you from seeing or hearing some interactive content unless you reveal your identity, and may turn your cruising into a crawl. Also, make sure your child knows to use the Block Sender option on all inappropriate messages.

Anyone concerned with a child’s welfare protects that child from the imminent dangers that exist in the real world, and does his or her best to prepare that child to venture out from under his or her protective wing, but the danger is becoming increasingly invasive. It’s time to apply the same caution inside the home by being wary of the “Big Bad Wolf” who lurks in your very own den.

 

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