Children and the Internet - A Guide for Parents


Compiled by Arrowhead Library System - Janesville, Wisconsin


New to the Internet? Click on Arrowhead Library System's Guides for Using the Internet which offers several suggested sites for teaching yourself how to navigate the Internet and the World Wide Web, including Beginner's Central, an online tutorial aimed at the Internet "newbie."

Click on the underlined words and phrases below to link to more information. Click on the Back button to return to this page.


Internet Benefits & Risks | Recommended Sites | Searching | Evaluating Sites |

Filtering | Should Your Family Filter the Web? | Filtering/Blocking/Monitoring Software |

Chat | Internet Safety Tips | Libraries in Rock County

Introduction
The Internet is becoming an exciting new presence in our family lives, offering opportunities unheard of only 5 or 10 years ago. Without ever leaving home, our children can explore museums, play games, check weather forecasts or sports scores, and exchange instant messages with friends from all over the globe. Education, entertainment and information are all at their fingertips.

This phenomenal global network is not regulated by anyone, which opens the door to some risks children may encounter when they go online. You may have heard about kids finding things they don't understand or are not old enough to cope with, and of adults using the Web to prey on children who are naive and unaware of the dangers.

As parents, we know the world is not a safe place. Disney World is wonderful, but we don't let our children travel there by themselves. They need our guidance, our protection, and our wisdom.

The Internet is no different. It's loaded with art and knowledge and humor and opportunites for cultural exchange, but it's also infected with junk - pornography and crackpot conspiracy theories and unsubstantiated nonsense.

Despite this, forbidding children from using the Internet is both impractical and short-sighted. Children need to learn how to access information electronically - how to find useful information (and not just play games) -- how to assess the good and credible from the false and half-baked. As a concerned parent, you will want to provide guidance to your child about the use of this global resource. There are ways to minimize the risks and maximize the benefits.

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What Parents Can Do
One of the best ways is to point children to some of the thousands of excellent sites for children and teens on the Web, to keep them busy with choices that really interest young people. We don't start a trip to the library by telling our kids where they can't go. We direct them to the sections they might be interested in, where they can roam under our supervision.

Our goal is for you as parents to feel comfortable about bringing this new medium into your home safely, wisely, and with the knowledge to make it work for you.


Recommended Sites for Kids and Families

Kids Page | TeenZone | Arrowhead Library System

The Internet is bringing information to the general public that previously was difficult to find. State and federal laws, Supreme Court opinions, census statistics, current scientific information, and up-to-date news are all available to the student. Homework help that used to be hard to locate for students and the adults helping them is now easier, with more information accessible from the smallest rural library or the student's home.

Students need to be careful in selecting resources on the Internet. When they come to the library, librarians have already selected certain sources because of their accuracy, reliability and usefulness. On the Internet, anyone can publish anything. Parents and teachers need to show children how to use and evaluate information they find online. Some individuals and organizations are very careful about the accuracy of the information they post, but others are not. Some even mislead on purpose. While the URL, or web address, gives a number of clues about the kind of information on a certain Web site, you many sometimes find information on a site that you do not expect.

Sites from commercial businesses usually include ".com"; federal government sites end in ".gov," K-12 school sites often include "k12" in the address, library sites use "lib," and college and university sites often include ".edu." Sites from non-profit organizations often include ".org." A site with a tilde ( ~ ) in the address usually indicates that this page is maintained or created by an individual, rather than representing an organization, a business or a school.

Two good places to start exploring the Internet with your children - the Kids Page and TeenZone - have been developed by Arrowhead Library System and are linked from your ALS member library's home page. Both pages include links to hundreds of sites that have been evaluated by professionals and determined to be reliable, accurate and appropriate for kids.

Hundreds more sites on the Web which may be of interest to kids can be found on any Arrowhead Library System member library's home page. The home pages includes reference resources for Books, General Reference, History and Genealogy, Entertainment, News, Weather and Sports, and much more. The Education section leads to the home pages of many Rock County schools, area colleges, and college guides for students planning their future.

One of the most exciting new developments on the Arrowhead Library System home pages is BadgerLink, an online state-funded service which gives Wisconsin residents free access to millions of articles from business and health databases, 4,000 magazines and 40 newspapers. Remember Readers Guide from your term-paper days? With BadgerLink, students can locate information for term papers from all kinds of journals and magazines, including both complete articles and summaries, and can find stories from many Wisconsin and national newspapers.

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Searching the Internet
Unlike a library, there is no system to organize and classify all of the resources on the Internet. To find what you need (if you can't find it on your library's home page), you will need to use a search engine or directory. The dilemma becomes how you or your kids search without finding inappropriate material. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee about what you'll find with any search engine or despite any filter.

Search engines and directories designed for families are listed on the Arrowhead Library System's Search Tools for Kids, which is accessible from the ALS Kids Page. These tools block out sites that do not meet specific child-friendly guidelines. Some of these search engines are more restrictive than others. Several are simply directories of pre-selected sites, while others search throughout the World Wide Web filtering out sites that may be pornographic, violent or hate-filled. Try out a few different ones to find out what best suits your needs.


A couple of searching tips:

Broad vs. Narrow topics
Narrow the focus of your search whenever possible. For example, when a student is looking for information for a report on the country of China, he/she can type "China" and get hundreds or thousands of hits about the country, the dinnerware, companies about China, politics, history, culture, and much more all mixed together. The student may have better luck finding the answer he or she is looking for by narrowing the topic. For example, China AND history, China AND politics, China AND music.

Phrases
For terms that are used as a phrase, use quotes to force the engine to search them as a unit. For example, "National Basketball Association" or "Michael Jordan." Without the quotes, you're likely to get thousands of hits about any association or anyone with the first name of Michael.


Searching the Internet can be very frustrating, especially for kids who are used to clear rules and results for homework. Use several different search engines with multiple terms (for information on Rollerblading, you would want to search for in-line skating, blading, and rollerblading.) Remember, the Internet is truly world wide and thousands of new pages are added every day. The best advice for searching the Internet is the same for life. If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.

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Evaluating Web Sites
How can you tell if a site is reliable or not? Ask yourself...

1. Who is the authority or responsible for the Web site?

2. Is the site regularly updated?

3. Is the information correct? Are there typos or other errors?

4. How easy is it to navigate?

5. What types of sites does it link to?

For more information about how to tell if you are looking at a great Web site, see the Selection Criteria posted by the American Library Association.

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Filtering the Internet
The American Library Association believes that filtering products - which block access to sites that are known to be inappropriate for children -- can be useful tools for parents at home. The ALA has not endorsed filtering in libraries for two reasons:

A. The software is not -- and probably never will be -- 100 percent effective in blocking out undesirable material. The Web is too vast and it changes too quickly. It would be irresponsible and could give parents a false sense of security if they believe their children are protected from everything they think might be bad when that is not possible.

B. Public libraries are used by people of all ages and diverse backgrounds. Limiting what is available online to what is suitable for young children is simply not appropriate. Filters can, and do, screen out perfectly legal and useful information.

The role of libraries is to provide access to information. Very few libraries have reported actual problems with either children or adults misusing the Internet. The American Library Association reports that there has been no outpouring of complaints from parents.

The best way to protect children is for parents to supervise their children's Internet use and to teach them to make wise choices. Librarians are glad to help.

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Should your family filter the Web?
The decision of whether or not to use a filter in your home is entirely related to your values, needs and family. Many filters are on the market, and are capable of vastly different things, from blocking chat and transmission of information to monitoring your hard drive and keeping history lists. Some commercial online services, such as America Online, and Internet Service Providers allow parents to limit their children's access to certain services. While child protection tools are worth exploring, they are not a panacea. The best way to assure that your children are having positive online experiences is to stay in touch with what they are doing. At the very least, keep track of any files your children download to the computer, consider sharing an e-mail account with your children, and occasionally join your children when they are in private chat areas.

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Filtering/Blocking/Monitoring Software

For more information about tools to filter or monitor Internet use in your home, go to the GetNetWise Tools for Family section. Here you can search or browse for more than 100 Internet safety products, including those that filter explicit or violent content, monitor a child's Internet access, or limit time online. Also includes sample contracts for kids' Internet use.

GetNetWise is a public service of a wide range of Internet industry corporations and public service organizations. The site also includes a glossary of Internet terms, a guide to online safety, directions for reporting online trouble, and great sites for kids to visit.

More about filtering software can be found at these sites:

A comparative chart of Internet filter software

A Parents' Guide to the Internet

Eight Programs to Porn-Proof the Net

 

Remember, a list of filtered search tools and kids-safe Internet directories are available on the ALS Search Tools for Kids page.

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Chat rooms
One of the most appealing features of the Internet for kids are "chat rooms." Unlike bulletin boards or newsgroups, chat rooms allow live communication among Internet users.

There's a funny cartoon, originally published in the New Yorker, of a dog sitting at a computer and saying, "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog." The fact is, there's really no way for a person participating in chat to really know who they are talking to. Someone claiming to be a 12-year-old girl may, in fact, be a 40-year-old man.

Teach your kids what information is private, what questions are inappropriate, and how to double-check things like offers for free merchandise. Tell your kids to never give out identifying information and never allow a child to arrange a face-to-face meeting without parental permission. If a meeting is arranged, make the first one in a public spot and be sure to accompany your child. If they are empowered to be suspicious and to check what they read, they are less likely to believe everything they see in a chat room.

There are, however, monitored chat rooms where an adult is listening in on the chat and making sure it does not go beyond certain guidelines. America Online, for example, monitors children's chat rooms and if conversations get too rough, the monitor breaks in.

Monitored Chats for Kids

Yahooligans Chat Rooms for Kids

CyberKids Chat

Kids Zone Chat

Surfing the Net With Kids Monitored Chat Rooms

 

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Internet safety tips
Technology isn't the problem. It's how you use it. The Internet is one of the most exciting learning tools of our century. The vast amount of helpful, entertaining and educational material far outweighs what might be considered undesirable. The absolute best way to protect our children is to teach them to make wise choices throughout their lives -- whether it's about books, movies, CDs or the Internet. It's up to parents to provide clear guidelines for their children and talk with them about what they believe is ­ or isn't ­ appropriate. This is how children learn.

By taking responsibility for your children's online computer use, parents can greatly minimize any potential risks of being online and help your family maximize the Internet's wonderful opportunities. Click here for Ten Tips for Parents.

Ask your children to read My Rules for Online Safety here or print it out and post it near your computer.

 

For more information about Internet safety, tools for families, and how to report online trouble, go to GetNetWise at http://www.getnetwise.org.

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Free public Internet access is available at all Rock County public libraries. Call your library for details. Click on any library below to visit its home page.

 

Beloit
Public Library

Clinton
Public Library

Eager Free Public Library, Evansville

Edgerton
Public Library

 Hedberg Public Library, Janesville

Milton
Public Library

Orfordville
Public Library

 Arrowhead
Library System

Created by Arrowhead Library System, Janesville, Wisconsin.