In this day and age of Internet use we often hear precautionary tales played out in the media — stories that deeply affect how we, as parents, should respond in a world dominated by the all-pervasive Internet. While the Internet is a useful tool allowing for networking, information gathering and even e-commerce, there are downsides. The misuse of unsecure websites, social media and even texting have made headlines, worrying us all. One weak moment, one indiscretion, one lapse in judgment . . . our sons and daughters can pay dearly for succumbing to online peer pressure, phishing schemes and evil geniuses who pray on young Internet users. Cyber-stalking and cyber-bullying are threats, as is online targeting by predators. For this reason, we went to an Internet expert for answers.
“Many parents find themselves less knowledgeable about computer use than their children,” says Charles Mazzini, owner of Hyperlinks Media. “Today’s children exist in a computer-savvy world. They cut their teeth on a keyboard and learn online from their classrooms. Technology is a part of who they are, yet they are still just children, and even teens have limited concepts about online danger, stalking, etc. As they surf the Internet they may stumble upon objectionable images and content. They may be lured into behaviors that violate everything they’ve been taught. They may get caught up in the moment.”
What’s a parent to do? The answer: Be vigilant. “Some parents take advantage of various child filters, either from their own computer software or Internet service, or filtering packages they can purchase,” says Mazzini. “That’s always a good option, but for older tweens and teens who have access to iPhones, iPads and friend’s computers, it falls to the parent to educate, guide and set rules. It isn’t always easy, especially when your child is more technically sophisticated than you. But communication and real-life examples of Internet misuse can be powerful deterrents to potential problems.”
Rules Mazzini is a believer in open and honest communication. “Have a dialogue with your sons and daughters. Explain what is and isn’t acceptable behavior, and why a thoughtless gaffe online or a questionable post on Facebook can haunt them far into their future,” he says. “Constantly enforce rules by appealing to your child’s core ethics and values. Encourage them to resist temptations and follow the Golden Rule. It isn’t easy. Cyber-bullying is an ongoing issue. Facebook, Twitter and Tumblir are popular online communities but can lead to inappropriate content and images, so guidance is the key. Explain that your child’s reputation online is just as valuable as their reputation in school and church. It may go against the current social climate of “anything goes,” but endeavor to teach your children that future employers can harvest a great deal of online commentary and make decisions to hire and fire based on what they find,” cautions Mazzini.
Passwords and Access
Is it appropriate to ask for your child’s password and login information in order to occasionally “pop in” to view online interactions? “Yes,” says Mazzini. “It is definitely appropriate for minors to be guided, despite those (including some online communities) who protest parental oversight. Interfacing is a privilege, not a right. Not everyone in the world has the best interests of your child at heart—and that’s where you come in.” Teachable moments about civil discourse, reputation, and values often result when parents become involved. Shaping children into responsible online citizens is the goal, despite social and peer pressure.
Online commerce is the wave of the future. Kids want to buy online due to the creative marketing of companies and brilliant sales campaigns that target their demographic. “From eBay to cosmetics to magazines, the offerings are dazzling,” says Mazzini. “But not everyone who wants a piece of your child’s allowance (which may end up on your credit card) has e-commerce credentialing. To defeat hackers who harvest and misuse financial data, it is wise to transact only on websites offering SSL Security (https) and PCI compliance. Make sure you see the “active” seals on a website, and teach your teens to do the same. If you are not sure of their security and the site also offers PayPal, Google or Yahoo checkout, always opt to pay through those.”
Log on to www.hyperlinkswebsites.com/internet-safety.php for a free easy-reference guide to Internet protocol. “We list resources for parents and those who use computers in their daily lives,” says Mazzini. “This guide offers practical insights that can make a difference in a world fueled by Internet commerce. Interacting with safety and savvy is the goal!”
Charles Mazzini is a Katy businessman and owner of Hyperlinks Media, a company specializing in website development, multimedia, editorial and marketing. He and his team have been serving businesses locally and across the nation for 14 years.
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