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Cyber Security Mauritius (National Computer Board)

Child Safety Online FAQ

At what age should I let my children go on the Internet?

Children are going online at younger and younger ages - in fact, the fastest growing segment of Internet users is now pre-schoolers! Many kids are using the Internet at school by six years of age, so realistically, they will probably want to be going online at home around this age as well. Children under ten, however, generally don't have the critical thinking skills to be online alone, so until this age you must be totally involved in their Internet use. Sit with them whenever they are online. Make sure they only go to sites you have chosen. Teach them to never reveal personal information over the Internet.

Should I let my children have their own e-mail accounts?

Young children should share a family e-mail address rather than have their own accounts. As they get older and want more independence, you can give them their own address. The mail can still reside in your family inbox, so you can ask about any suspicious-looking messages they may get. Ask your Internet Service Provider (ISP) what options it provides for family e-mail accounts.

By the age of 11, most kids want to have their own e-mail accounts, and they'll have no trouble getting one through free services such as Hotmail or Yahoo! Make sure they take every precaution to protect their e-mail address so they don't receive junk e-mail and messages from strangers.

What house rules should I have for Internet use?

Its important to know that rules do have a positive effect on young peoples behaviour. A research done in 2005 shows that having a rule about meeting online acquaintances in the real world reduces the likelihood that a young person will do so by one-half. Although kids are more likely to break a rule as they get older, the very fact that the one exists continues to affect their behaviour positively. Kids in Grades 12 to 16 are twice as likely to go to inappropriate sites when there is no house rule against this activity.

Negotiate an online agreement with your kids outlining the rights and obligations of computer use at home. Make sure the agreement clearly sets out: where your kids can go online and what they can do there; how much time they can spend on the Internet; what to do if anything makes them uncomfortable; how to protect their personal information; how to ensure safety in interactive environments; and how to behave ethically and responsibly while online.

Your children's input is critical to the success of the agreement. Print it out and keep it by the family computer to remind everyone of the rules. Review it regularly, and update it as your kids are older.

How old should my child be to use MSN?

Instant messaging has replaced the phone as the main communication tool for students Once kids start using instant messaging, parents have an important role to play in ensuring their privacy is protected and they are using the technology responsibly.

Your MSN rules should include:
• no filling out a personal profile
• never talk to strangers (you should check their contact lists regularly to make sure they know everyone on them)
• no spreading rumours and gossip or hateful messages using MSN.

Can I read my child's MSN instant messaging conversations?

Yes, MSN is set up to automatically save chat logs in a folder on your computer. You can check your hard drive for a folder called "My chat logs". The default location is usually under: C:\My Documents\. If kids know about these logs, however, it's easy for them to go into "Options" in MSN and disable this feature. In the end having good open dialogue with kids is much more constructive then spying on them. They will always be one step ahead of us when it comes to technology. You need to get good rules in place and trust that your kids will follow them.

Should kids be using blogging or social networking sites such as Facebook?

Users create profiles on these sites, which often contain personal information and photos and whose contents can be inappropriate for young teens. If your kids are using blogging or social networking sites you should view their profiles and blogs to ensure that no personal information or photos have been posted.

Are Webcams safe for kids to use?

Cheaper prices and ease of use mean that Webcams are becoming increasing popular with young people. For safety and security reasons Webcams should not be attached to computers in kids' rooms where their use can't be monitored. It's important to establish house rules for Webcams including:

• Only use the Webcam with people you know.
• Always keep the lens cap closed or unplug the Webcam from the computer when not in use.
• Never do anything in front of a Webcam that you wouldn't want the entire world to see.
• Don't post Webcam videos on the Web.

How can I prevent pop-ups on my computer?

The easiest way to avoid pop-ups is to use blocking software that you can buy or download free from the Internet. You can also use a specialty “toolbar” with your browser. Many toolbars allow you to click on a button to block pop-ups, and then click again to disable the pop-up blocking feature. There are privacy issues around using specialty toolbars, however, because they can be used to trace your Internet tracks.

Can kids become addicted to the Internet?

The Internet is a wonderful tool for young people, especially for those who have difficulties with peer interactions. Computer-savvy kids can shine on the Internet because looks and athletic ability are not important, and this can help build their self-esteem. However, excessive computer use may further isolate shy kids from their peers or take away from other activities such as homework or sleep. Parents and teachers are often unaware that there is problem until it is serious. This is because it is easy to hide online activities and because Internet addiction is not widely recognized.

Establish rules around computer use and try to balance it with more physical activity. Also, make sure your Internet-connected computer is out in the open, not in your child's room.

Finally, look at your own Internet use. Do you spend hours online? If you do, your children are likely to follow your example.

What should my kids know about computer viruses?

A virus is a malicious software program that infects computer files or disk drives and then makes copies of itself. Many of the activities that kids do online can leave computers vulnerable to viruses. E-mail attachments are the most common means of distributing viruses, but they can also be downloaded using file-sharing and instant messaging programs. Make sure your children understand to never open an e-mail attachment they haven't requested; to configure their instant messaging program so they cannot receive files from other users; to never download files ending in ".exe" when using file-sharing programs; and to never download any program off the Internet without checking with a parent first. You can protect your computer by always running up-to-date firewall and anti-virus software.

I am concerned about my kids' Internet use. Can I track where they are going online?

Yes, you can track where they've been online, but be aware that computer-savvy kids know how to cover their Internet tracks. Clear rules about Internet use and open communication with your kids are more effective than invading their privacy.

When you surf the Internet, your Web browser (Microsoft Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator) collects information about the places you visit, and stores it on your computer.

Browsers usually keep 'history' files of recently visited sites. Most versions of Internet Explorer have a History button on the top toolbar. If you don't see the button, or if you are a Netscape user, simply press the Ctrl (control) and H keys at the same time, which will also bring up your history listings. Double click on any listing to view the site.

Browsers also make temporary copies of Web pages, known as cache files, and stores them on your computer. Internet Explorer allows users to click on either Tools or View. Next, select Internet Options and click on General and then Settings. Finally, click on View Files to see a list of all the cached Web pages on your computer.

In Netscape you select Edit, then Preferences. Click on Advanced and select Cache. Look beside the Choose Folder button to see where your cache files are stored on your hard drive. There are also many kinds of software that will let you monitor various online activities. You should also check out a good computer store and ask what products they recommend.

What should I do if my child is being harassed online?

If this occurs, you can 'block' the person sending the harassing messages. There are 'block' options in e-mail and instant messaging programs. Save any harassing e-mail messages and forward them to your child's e-mail service provider. Most providers have appropriate use policies that restrict users from harassing others over the Internet.

If the harassment consists of comments posted on a Web site, contact your Internet Service Provider (ISP) and ask for help to locate the ISP hosting the site. You can then contact the ISP and bring the offensive comments to their attention.

You should also contact your local police department. Harassment is a crime in Mauritius, both in the real world and on the Internet. It is illegal to communicate repeatedly with someone if your communication causes them to fear for their own safety or the safety of others.

Does filtering software work?

Filtering tools may be helpful with young children, to complement - not replace - parental supervision. Filters and blockers, however, are not foolproof and they often fail to keep out inappropriate material. They can also block a lot of useful content, which your kids may need for their school assignments. While filters may be useful when your kids are young, as they grow older they will need to develop safe and responsible online behaviour. Parents and teachers are best equipped to teach kids how to responsibly use the Internet.

My teen wants to shop online. How can I be sure the site is secure?

If kids and teens shop online, they need solid guidelines to keep their transactions safe and secure. Teach them how to tell when it is all right to give credit information to a Web site by looking for: a Better Business Bureau quality assurance seal; an unbroken lock icon at the bottom left-hand corner of the page (ensuring that only you and the Web site can view financial transactions); or an "https" in the address box of your browser, which also ensures a secure environment. Make sure your browser supports 128-bit encryption to ensure your credit card number is automatically encrypted, or scrambled, before it is sent. (The latest versions of both Internet Explorer and Netscape support 128-bit encryption.)

What should I look for in a kids' site privacy policy?

Privacy policies outline the privacy terms and conditions of a site. Often, however, these policies are vague, misleading or non-existent. When you read a privacy policy, you want to know: what information is being collected or tracked, and how this information will be used (especially, whether it will be sold to a third party); do you have the ability to change or delete data collected from your children; what steps are taken to safeguard kids in chat rooms, message boards and e-mail activities on the site; and does the site try to obtain verifiable, parental consent before a child releases personal information online.