Keeping kids online safe

Yesterday I met with a few Symantec executives. They’ll have some cool stuff out over the next few weeks that we can talk about. But yesterday I spent a bunch of time with Jody Gibney who is responsible for the Norton Internet Security product line talking about how to prepare and educate kids about how to safely behave online. It’s nice to see companies are finally moving away from just being a spy on your kids. Parents who assume they can keep their kids from seeing “bad” stuff online are totally uninformed. Now that kids are bringing iPhones to school that era is over. Get over it. Your kids WILL probably see porn or other sites you’d rather they not visit.

The new way to keep kids safe isn’t to try to block them from going to nasty sites: it’s all about educating them about what is good behavior and is bad. Anyway, Jody told me that educators are now seeing the real threats are the kids own friends. They are brutal, she told me, and are doing all sorts of nasty stuff online that could harm reputations for years. Remember, Google sees all but it is selective about what it sees. Ten kids can group together, create a fake online page with your sons name on it, and do a lot of harm. It’s a world I never even considered. I always thought that the threats would be porn or some weird old dude trying to exploit my son.

It gets worse, though, because tonight MSN reported that 51% of kids surf online unsupervised and that 29% had been bullied.

So, how do you protect your kids about that? You talk with them, Jody told me. She and Symantec are developing tools after talking with both kids and parents to try to help them do just that — talk about what’s good behavior online.

So, let’s start. What kind of threats to today’s kids are you seeing? How are you handling it at home?

Comments

  1. Timely topic. I am dealing with a 14 year old girl and this and the crap they call movies is keeping me very busy.

    For example a month ago, she wanted to go to movies, well we screwed up and did not google the time slot and just went to find her selected movie did not start for another 3 hours. So I saw the banner for a golden globe honoree “The Reader”- hey a movie about reading cool. Wrong

    Little did I know that I took my daughter to an intermittent softporn movie. I was very embarrassed but let her enjoy the good parts. However afterward the awkwardness got us talking and she was able to talk about subject matter that we haven’t thus far either out of my fear or hers. And I thought better I be there than her learn on her own with her friends with their spin.

    Later we got suckered in to see the action flick “Taken” the worst fears a father can have– a girl taken to be sold in the sex slave trade. The victim looked remarkably like my daughter. Which made me quite grateful for the safety and security of daughter. We had some great conversations afterward as well. Confronting our worst fears made us come closer together and removed some of our fears and hopefully put in some safeguards for future behavior.

    Robert, I totally agree that parental involvement and education is key to avoiding negative outcomes of these fascinating, and extremely powerful tools.

  2. Timely topic. I am dealing with a 14 year old girl and this and the crap they call movies is keeping me very busy.

    For example a month ago, she wanted to go to movies, well we screwed up and did not google the time slot and just went to find her selected movie did not start for another 3 hours. So I saw the banner for a golden globe honoree “The Reader”- hey a movie about reading cool. Wrong

    Little did I know that I took my daughter to an intermittent softporn movie. I was very embarrassed but let her enjoy the good parts. However afterward the awkwardness got us talking and she was able to talk about subject matter that we haven’t thus far either out of my fear or hers. And I thought better I be there than her learn on her own with her friends with their spin.

    Later we got suckered in to see the action flick “Taken” the worst fears a father can have– a girl taken to be sold in the sex slave trade. The victim looked remarkably like my daughter. Which made me quite grateful for the safety and security of daughter. We had some great conversations afterward as well. Confronting our worst fears made us come closer together and removed some of our fears and hopefully put in some safeguards for future behavior.

    Robert, I totally agree that parental involvement and education is key to avoiding negative outcomes of these fascinating, and extremely powerful tools.

  3. “29% had been bullied.”

    Compared to probably 40%-50% that they are bullied in the real world.

    I agree that parents and kids need to be educated about the “dangers” of the Internet – the same way kids are educated about how not to grab a hot pan, or jay-walk. And parents need to supervise the same way they do when their younger kids are cooking. But I don’t think we need to overreact much either.

  4. “29% had been bullied.”

    Compared to probably 40%-50% that they are bullied in the real world.

    I agree that parents and kids need to be educated about the “dangers” of the Internet – the same way kids are educated about how not to grab a hot pan, or jay-walk. And parents need to supervise the same way they do when their younger kids are cooking. But I don’t think we need to overreact much either.

  5. We have parental controls set on our kids’ e-mail accounts so that they can only receive e-mail from approved senders (family members and close friends that we know and trust). We also have parental controls on their login for the internet. There are only a few sites they are allowed to visit and none of them involve any chat. Some are games but many are educational. We also keep a laptop in the family room so we are always right there when they are on the internet and can see what they are up to. Even more important than all that, IMHO, is to keep open communication with your kids so they will feel safe talking to you about anything, including anything strange they encounter on the internet.

  6. We have parental controls set on our kids’ e-mail accounts so that they can only receive e-mail from approved senders (family members and close friends that we know and trust). We also have parental controls on their login for the internet. There are only a few sites they are allowed to visit and none of them involve any chat. Some are games but many are educational. We also keep a laptop in the family room so we are always right there when they are on the internet and can see what they are up to. Even more important than all that, IMHO, is to keep open communication with your kids so they will feel safe talking to you about anything, including anything strange they encounter on the internet.

  7. Robert – thanks for discussing such an important issue.

    I’m looking into http://www.opendns.com/ to assist with parental controls etc in addition to educating my ‘advanced’ five year old! Would be interested in other tools also.

    I don’t see the internet any different to the wider world. You wouldn’t let your child go out in to the world unprotected or uneducated against risks – the internet should not be any different.

  8. Robert – thanks for discussing such an important issue.

    I’m looking into http://www.opendns.com/ to assist with parental controls etc in addition to educating my ‘advanced’ five year old! Would be interested in other tools also.

    I don’t see the internet any different to the wider world. You wouldn’t let your child go out in to the world unprotected or uneducated against risks – the internet should not be any different.

  9. It’s called Digital Literacy. You engage with your community and you open out the issues and discuss them. Not many governments or institutions seem to “get” this yet. It’s all moral panic and run screaming to block stuff. A lot of much younger kids have facebook accounts or worse and are surfing in areas they shouldn’t be. A lot of research suggests that most kids are pretty savvy but that those at risk in the “physical world” offline will be just as vulnerable online if not more so.

    So what do you do? Have a concentrated program of getting information out to and debate about it with parents, teachers, carers etc. Let people know the sanctions as well as the pitfalls. If you don’t talk about it and explore how to keep your kids safe and let them know strategies for combatting and safely navigating the online world with all it’s attendant risks then you’re just sweeping it under the carpet and not addressing the problem. There needs to be a general awareness campaign in schools and not just the shock horror tactics – I’ll bet if you conducted and anonymous survey of younger kids and asked them if they are in areas they shouldn’t be you’d be surprised.

    You can’t stop it – and when mobile devices become ubiquitous it will be totally unstoppable – so you then educate and engage and inform. You also remain vigilant and know what’s happening. It’s about community and people as usual – not the tech.

  10. It’s called Digital Literacy. You engage with your community and you open out the issues and discuss them. Not many governments or institutions seem to “get” this yet. It’s all moral panic and run screaming to block stuff. A lot of much younger kids have facebook accounts or worse and are surfing in areas they shouldn’t be. A lot of research suggests that most kids are pretty savvy but that those at risk in the “physical world” offline will be just as vulnerable online if not more so.

    So what do you do? Have a concentrated program of getting information out to and debate about it with parents, teachers, carers etc. Let people know the sanctions as well as the pitfalls. If you don’t talk about it and explore how to keep your kids safe and let them know strategies for combatting and safely navigating the online world with all it’s attendant risks then you’re just sweeping it under the carpet and not addressing the problem. There needs to be a general awareness campaign in schools and not just the shock horror tactics – I’ll bet if you conducted and anonymous survey of younger kids and asked them if they are in areas they shouldn’t be you’d be surprised.

    You can’t stop it – and when mobile devices become ubiquitous it will be totally unstoppable – so you then educate and engage and inform. You also remain vigilant and know what’s happening. It’s about community and people as usual – not the tech.

  11. I totally agree with the “get over it” part. Honesty and transparency go way past my Twitter acct. My kid is going to see things I don’t want him to see, and that’s that. Nothing I can do will prevent it- how he reacts, though, will be largely up how I choose to parent.

    If we can conceptualize social media’s changing landscape (imagining when kids make fun of facebooking parents the way we made fun of the 8 track- already happening, BTW), we should be able to think about the ways kids can use social media to participate in a kid’s version of society. Without guidance, it’s multiplayer Lord of the Flies.

    Teaching kids to think critically about the decisions they make is the key to internet safety.

  12. I totally agree with the “get over it” part. Honesty and transparency go way past my Twitter acct. My kid is going to see things I don’t want him to see, and that’s that. Nothing I can do will prevent it- how he reacts, though, will be largely up how I choose to parent.

    If we can conceptualize social media’s changing landscape (imagining when kids make fun of facebooking parents the way we made fun of the 8 track- already happening, BTW), we should be able to think about the ways kids can use social media to participate in a kid’s version of society. Without guidance, it’s multiplayer Lord of the Flies.

    Teaching kids to think critically about the decisions they make is the key to internet safety.

  13. Thank you for taking on this topic. I look forward to hearing the responses. My sons are almost 7, and are total Webkinz and Lego.com addicts. They don’t email friends yet, but they hate me when I limit their online time and kick them off the computer when they would play games all weekend long if I didn’t set a timer and step in and be a parent. Starting early by limiting online time for them is key at a young age, and only letting them use the computer as a privilege seems to be working here.

    What I worry about is them being hurt by friends as well. Even now, at age 40, I stumble upon my ex-husbands girlfriend’s blog, which explains details of them being in places I spent my most intimate years with him. Him reciting the same songs he used to sing to me. It really hurts, and I’m a grown up, right? Painful things are still painful, but with age and experience, we learn to accept some things better. How does this kind of behavior affect a child? To see these things happen right in your face, on Facebook? It is as if bullying and the pain of failed relationships has been amplified to deafen even the strongest spirit.

    The key, I believe, is to teach kids that there is more to life than being online, and this means to show them that with our own actions, and our own values. Get out. Climb a mountain with them daily. Hike more, email less. Set days of the week where you don’t even touch your own computer, iPhone or other tech gadget when the kids are home at all. If the kids see you playing with 10 computers on your desk from day one, isn’t that all they will end up thinking is cool?

    I think being a parent is more than just discussing what they do online with them, but it is setting a good example by limiting our own behavior. We are all going to share ourselves online in some way, but teaching them what to share and what to keep private is tough. What a challenge. I hope things are easier by the time my kids are teens online. : )

  14. Thank you for taking on this topic. I look forward to hearing the responses. My sons are almost 7, and are total Webkinz and Lego.com addicts. They don’t email friends yet, but they hate me when I limit their online time and kick them off the computer when they would play games all weekend long if I didn’t set a timer and step in and be a parent. Starting early by limiting online time for them is key at a young age, and only letting them use the computer as a privilege seems to be working here.

    What I worry about is them being hurt by friends as well. Even now, at age 40, I stumble upon my ex-husbands girlfriend’s blog, which explains details of them being in places I spent my most intimate years with him. Him reciting the same songs he used to sing to me. It really hurts, and I’m a grown up, right? Painful things are still painful, but with age and experience, we learn to accept some things better. How does this kind of behavior affect a child? To see these things happen right in your face, on Facebook? It is as if bullying and the pain of failed relationships has been amplified to deafen even the strongest spirit.

    The key, I believe, is to teach kids that there is more to life than being online, and this means to show them that with our own actions, and our own values. Get out. Climb a mountain with them daily. Hike more, email less. Set days of the week where you don’t even touch your own computer, iPhone or other tech gadget when the kids are home at all. If the kids see you playing with 10 computers on your desk from day one, isn’t that all they will end up thinking is cool?

    I think being a parent is more than just discussing what they do online with them, but it is setting a good example by limiting our own behavior. We are all going to share ourselves online in some way, but teaching them what to share and what to keep private is tough. What a challenge. I hope things are easier by the time my kids are teens online. : )

  15. Unfortunately educators are late with these new communication tools. Also are the parents. So what frighten me is that nobody is able to care about that. We are not usual parents. We are connected ones. So who could take care about that. I really don’t know. This is bad.

  16. Unfortunately educators are late with these new communication tools. Also are the parents. So what frighten me is that nobody is able to care about that. We are not usual parents. We are connected ones. So who could take care about that. I really don’t know. This is bad.

  17. I agree with Dave (although I’m not sure about the figures). Kids are at risk from their own peers. They are bullied by other kids they know. Why don’t I see reviews of the kids safety in school, on the playground or sports activitys? Rarely will children talk about things troubling them unless asked. Or if the situation has gone way to far. Lets ask them a bit more often, eh! Review schools like the Internet is reviewed. Grade them from a child-safety point of view. Support and educate parents in supporting their children and let the kids be kids. Don’t lumber the responsibility on them.

    Joel Leonard: Well said!

    Good post

  18. I agree with Dave (although I’m not sure about the figures). Kids are at risk from their own peers. They are bullied by other kids they know. Why don’t I see reviews of the kids safety in school, on the playground or sports activitys? Rarely will children talk about things troubling them unless asked. Or if the situation has gone way to far. Lets ask them a bit more often, eh! Review schools like the Internet is reviewed. Grade them from a child-safety point of view. Support and educate parents in supporting their children and let the kids be kids. Don’t lumber the responsibility on them.

    Joel Leonard: Well said!

    Good post

  19. You write: “The new way to keep kids safe isn’t to try to block them from going to nasty sites: it’s all about educating them about what is good behavior and is bad.” I’d add to that that we need to show kids the *real* value of the Internet–its potential as an education and research tool. Good online behavior means making the most of Web’s rigorous resources.

    Young kids learning to use the Internet are the rising stars of the information age and it is our task to guide them without censoring them. Human-edited search engines like http://www.SweetSearch.com are targeted at that type of hands on learning. Kids have the power and the freedom, but SweetSearch includes almost exclusively research, news and education sites. The young habitually come to see the ways the Internet is empowering, not destructive.

  20. You write: “The new way to keep kids safe isn’t to try to block them from going to nasty sites: it’s all about educating them about what is good behavior and is bad.” I’d add to that that we need to show kids the *real* value of the Internet–its potential as an education and research tool. Good online behavior means making the most of Web’s rigorous resources.

    Young kids learning to use the Internet are the rising stars of the information age and it is our task to guide them without censoring them. Human-edited search engines like http://www.SweetSearch.com are targeted at that type of hands on learning. Kids have the power and the freedom, but SweetSearch includes almost exclusively research, news and education sites. The young habitually come to see the ways the Internet is empowering, not destructive.

  21. I think the time when mobile devices become ubiquitous is here already. I can’t look at a teenager without seeing an iPhone in their hand. Even if the parent refuses to get a teen their own cell phone account, the iPod Touch, handheld video games and other devices have wifi built in. At this point it becomes impossible to control what they are viewing.
    Teens today are aware of just about everything regarding sexuality. Your only hope is that you have instilled your values into them at the pre-teen age.
    This doesn’t mean you can’t control it at home, dont give a young teen a computer and webcam in their own room, etc.
    As far as bullying, where is the outrage of this happening in real life? It happened to me for years and I absolutely hated middle school because of it. School administrators did nothing to try to stop bullying.

  22. I think the time when mobile devices become ubiquitous is here already. I can’t look at a teenager without seeing an iPhone in their hand. Even if the parent refuses to get a teen their own cell phone account, the iPod Touch, handheld video games and other devices have wifi built in. At this point it becomes impossible to control what they are viewing.
    Teens today are aware of just about everything regarding sexuality. Your only hope is that you have instilled your values into them at the pre-teen age.
    This doesn’t mean you can’t control it at home, dont give a young teen a computer and webcam in their own room, etc.
    As far as bullying, where is the outrage of this happening in real life? It happened to me for years and I absolutely hated middle school because of it. School administrators did nothing to try to stop bullying.

  23. Part of the issue is that parents and teachers are both guilty of not teaching their kids how to use the Internet responsibly. Would you let your child who is learning to read pronounce words in an incorrect way? No. The same should be true with Internet literacy. But, the problem goes deeper than that. There is so much information and so much BAD information. There are very few sites that can be trusted. Google spits back result after result, but even I, with a keen eye for differentiating good from bad information have been guilty of relying on information filled with holes and errors. How will our students/children know the difference? I would say that at this time, it’s important to find one or two search engines that are safe. Sites like PBS (http://www.pbs.com) and SweetSearch.com (http://www.sweetsearch.com) are the sites I rely on for kids. Both provide adequate information and games and “sweet Search” is hand-picked sites, which are guaranteed to be safe for kids, while providing quality results. A new issue of learning in the future is going to be information literacy…and it’s long overdue.

  24. Part of the issue is that parents and teachers are both guilty of not teaching their kids how to use the Internet responsibly. Would you let your child who is learning to read pronounce words in an incorrect way? No. The same should be true with Internet literacy. But, the problem goes deeper than that. There is so much information and so much BAD information. There are very few sites that can be trusted. Google spits back result after result, but even I, with a keen eye for differentiating good from bad information have been guilty of relying on information filled with holes and errors. How will our students/children know the difference? I would say that at this time, it’s important to find one or two search engines that are safe. Sites like PBS (http://www.pbs.com) and SweetSearch.com (http://www.sweetsearch.com) are the sites I rely on for kids. Both provide adequate information and games and “sweet Search” is hand-picked sites, which are guaranteed to be safe for kids, while providing quality results. A new issue of learning in the future is going to be information literacy…and it’s long overdue.

  25. A timely article for sure.

    I completely agree that the need for education for both children and parents is a constant requirement – the question for me is, how can parents protect their kids in the meantime?

    More often than not, parents have little real idea of what the children spend their time doing – looking at website lists is, as has already been pointed out, not the whole story – if children want to see most things on the internet then YouTube (to name just one popular site) will have something for sure.

    Fact is, children use the internet as a communications tool, be it social networks or instant messenger – THESE are the places kids hang out and therefore old school parental “controls” style tools arent enough – websites are always bad, but the people who use them can be. Is Facebook inherently “bad”? No. Is there a risk of cyberbullying and reputation risk? Yes. Blocking a common website isnt the answer now.

    Today, I feel it is more about the appropriateness of communication between children and others, it is about how they represent themselves online, and how they can (safely) learn what to communicate and when. “Parental Controls” are ok when you want to block sites, but the game has moved on and these “control” technologies have not. Just simple keyword matching is too unsophisticated to be used properly in the real world. Kids DO swear a bit – people DO fly Virgin and yes, even live in Scunthorpe…all would trigger keyword matches (!) but does a parent have to know EVERY time a word looks bad (even when, in context, it isnt?) when this irepresents little real danger? The result is “cry-wolf” parental control products that just get ignored after a while.

    SMART technology should be able to -

    1) Have a part to play to help educate children (without taking away the fun)
    2) Provide reassurance to parents (by providing them information when there is a problem)
    3) And not be spying! (which creates parent/child trust issues).

    Clever, active technologies that “learn” and understand context as well as content can help be a cornerstone in the family’s online “policy” when used alongside sensible education and discussion.

    Parents need help, as well as advice, in navigating the online world in order to best keep their children safe – they cannot be realistically expected to become online child safety experts overnight.

    There are tools out there that are beginning to help parents achieve this “safe but free” state with their kids – the laudable efforts of the guys at http://www.imsafer.com show what can be achieved when the problem is properly understood from a parents perspective – and it doesnt have to cost a penny….

    Great article and thread.

  26. A timely article for sure.

    I completely agree that the need for education for both children and parents is a constant requirement – the question for me is, how can parents protect their kids in the meantime?

    More often than not, parents have little real idea of what the children spend their time doing – looking at website lists is, as has already been pointed out, not the whole story – if children want to see most things on the internet then YouTube (to name just one popular site) will have something for sure.

    Fact is, children use the internet as a communications tool, be it social networks or instant messenger – THESE are the places kids hang out and therefore old school parental “controls” style tools arent enough – websites are always bad, but the people who use them can be. Is Facebook inherently “bad”? No. Is there a risk of cyberbullying and reputation risk? Yes. Blocking a common website isnt the answer now.

    Today, I feel it is more about the appropriateness of communication between children and others, it is about how they represent themselves online, and how they can (safely) learn what to communicate and when. “Parental Controls” are ok when you want to block sites, but the game has moved on and these “control” technologies have not. Just simple keyword matching is too unsophisticated to be used properly in the real world. Kids DO swear a bit – people DO fly Virgin and yes, even live in Scunthorpe…all would trigger keyword matches (!) but does a parent have to know EVERY time a word looks bad (even when, in context, it isnt?) when this irepresents little real danger? The result is “cry-wolf” parental control products that just get ignored after a while.

    SMART technology should be able to -

    1) Have a part to play to help educate children (without taking away the fun)
    2) Provide reassurance to parents (by providing them information when there is a problem)
    3) And not be spying! (which creates parent/child trust issues).

    Clever, active technologies that “learn” and understand context as well as content can help be a cornerstone in the family’s online “policy” when used alongside sensible education and discussion.

    Parents need help, as well as advice, in navigating the online world in order to best keep their children safe – they cannot be realistically expected to become online child safety experts overnight.

    There are tools out there that are beginning to help parents achieve this “safe but free” state with their kids – the laudable efforts of the guys at http://www.imsafer.com show what can be achieved when the problem is properly understood from a parents perspective – and it doesnt have to cost a penny….

    Great article and thread.

  27. “You blokes look up tight. You should try logging off; it relieves tension” –Ray Tracer. (The Return of the Crimson Binome)

  28. “You blokes look up tight. You should try logging off; it relieves tension” –Ray Tracer. (The Return of the Crimson Binome)

  29. Hey Robert,

    this is where Glubble will help you. We provide parents the tools to support their children discover the web and social networking. Instead of locking children or the computer down, or trying to be the experts for parents, we let parents take the responsibility and build a safe and fun web for their children. This way parents can teach their children to be good citizens in the online world. Glubble is directly integrated into Firefox and comes with safe browsing, search, fun content, twitter, and photo sharing for families, and more.

    You can check it out here: http://www.glubble.com
    Or look at this video: http://www.glubble.com/learn_more

    Sorry for the plug, but it fits the discussion.

  30. Hey Robert,

    this is where Glubble will help you. We provide parents the tools to support their children discover the web and social networking. Instead of locking children or the computer down, or trying to be the experts for parents, we let parents take the responsibility and build a safe and fun web for their children. This way parents can teach their children to be good citizens in the online world. Glubble is directly integrated into Firefox and comes with safe browsing, search, fun content, twitter, and photo sharing for families, and more.

    You can check it out here: http://www.glubble.com
    Or look at this video: http://www.glubble.com/learn_more

    Sorry for the plug, but it fits the discussion.

  31. as a parent with a 9yo daughter I worry about what she’s going to encounter on the web – but I also worry about TV and the mall – so we try to educate and inform and discuss. We use OpenDNS with filters set pretty high at home and an ever expanding hosts file. The PC is in the family area and only approved mail and IM contacts can communicate.

    But I wouldn’t trust Norton to look after my daughter. My experiences with their software have been less than savory over the years and running their installer is high on my list of things to do when I get a new machine with their cruftware on.

    While I hope a convenient and reliable software solution is found (I suspect with an open and transparent peer to peer rating engine) I don’t trust a filter to do the whole job any more than I’d let Aibo walk her to school ;)

  32. as a parent with a 9yo daughter I worry about what she’s going to encounter on the web – but I also worry about TV and the mall – so we try to educate and inform and discuss. We use OpenDNS with filters set pretty high at home and an ever expanding hosts file. The PC is in the family area and only approved mail and IM contacts can communicate.

    But I wouldn’t trust Norton to look after my daughter. My experiences with their software have been less than savory over the years and running their installer is high on my list of things to do when I get a new machine with their cruftware on.

    While I hope a convenient and reliable software solution is found (I suspect with an open and transparent peer to peer rating engine) I don’t trust a filter to do the whole job any more than I’d let Aibo walk her to school ;)

  33. “Remember, Google sees all but it is selective about what it sees.”

    Isn’t Gmail still the only major online mail service that does not show the originating IP address in the header? Yes, I think they are and the kids know and love this because it provide anonymity to attack their “friends.”

  34. “Remember, Google sees all but it is selective about what it sees.”

    Isn’t Gmail still the only major online mail service that does not show the originating IP address in the header? Yes, I think they are and the kids know and love this because it provide anonymity to attack their “friends.”

  35. I whole-heartedly agree that talking to your kids about what is and isn’t acceptable behavior online is key. As someone with 9 nieces and nephews in their tweens and teens, I was surprised to see what they and some of their friends actually post online — from potentially embarrassing pictures to rants about other kids — I found it hard to believe that they didn’t understand what some of the consequences of their posts could be. I’ve spoken to my nieces and nephews about online safety, and in particular, about their online reputation and how that could affect them later. I work at AOL and contribute to the SafetyClicks (http:www.safetyclicks.com) blog about online child safety, and we often stress the importance of parents talking to their kids about appropriate and inappropriate online behavior.

    You also make a great point that simply blocking “bad” sites doesn’t keep kids safe online. The final Internet Safety Task Force report (http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/pubrelease/isttf/) reinforces that sentiment in their findings by saying that technology plays a helpful role, but should be combined with parental oversight and education. For years, AOL has advocated that parents use AOL Parental Controls (http://parentalcontrols.aol.com) as a way to start a conversation with their kids about online safety. As kids increase their online time, it’s more important than ever for parents to educate themselves about the technology their kids are using, and to have open conversations with them about how to keep safe.

  36. I whole-heartedly agree that talking to your kids about what is and isn’t acceptable behavior online is key. As someone with 9 nieces and nephews in their tweens and teens, I was surprised to see what they and some of their friends actually post online — from potentially embarrassing pictures to rants about other kids — I found it hard to believe that they didn’t understand what some of the consequences of their posts could be. I’ve spoken to my nieces and nephews about online safety, and in particular, about their online reputation and how that could affect them later. I work at AOL and contribute to the SafetyClicks (http:www.safetyclicks.com) blog about online child safety, and we often stress the importance of parents talking to their kids about appropriate and inappropriate online behavior.

    You also make a great point that simply blocking “bad” sites doesn’t keep kids safe online. The final Internet Safety Task Force report (http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/pubrelease/isttf/) reinforces that sentiment in their findings by saying that technology plays a helpful role, but should be combined with parental oversight and education. For years, AOL has advocated that parents use AOL Parental Controls (http://parentalcontrols.aol.com) as a way to start a conversation with their kids about online safety. As kids increase their online time, it’s more important than ever for parents to educate themselves about the technology their kids are using, and to have open conversations with them about how to keep safe.

  37. I think the software companies are missing the mark. It’s great that they get that kids work around any barrier you put up and do more than just talk with creepy old men. However, there is no substitute for a conversation with kids, since they are the ones who will be out there in the danger zone making choices. No software company can simulate it, nor should they. If a parent is seeking a software solution for online child safety and reputation management, the parent doesn’t get it.

    In four years as a middle school teacher by day and online child decoy by night, I got some great anecdotes from students who didn’t know what I did when I went home in the evenings. There was a high schooler who saw Dateline and talked with her mom about it and they agreed that she would be safer if she didn’t participate in a particular social networking site. I got the story because she was defending not being a member to a friend of hers with an air of “I can’t believe you participate there. That’s dangerous.” Another time my students found out and told me about the conversations they initiated with their parents. Two years later one reported that she still remembered the safety lessons I imparted to them.

    Software companies who are trying to sell something in this space are not serving their customers the best they can, in my opinion. If Norton were to set up an online community for parents to participate in and get tips and guidelines on how to have those conversations with their kids, when to have them and what to do if it’s too late… That would be valuable. I’d like to see them add value that way rather than another product that feeds a horrible misconception: that software can take the place of conversation and understanding of the danger. If they wanted to monetize it, offer live webinars to members of the community for a reasonable charge ($5 per IP.)

    The dangers to our kids are readily apparent right now, and they are constantly shifting. Right now I see the danger to children as being through parents, actually. Parents see their kids in danger or endangering their future and want to protect them but are ill-informed to do so. In seeking out tools to help them, they get taken prey by software companies promising them their child’s safety and security if they buy this product. I hope Norton doesn’t fall into this group of predatory companies. That would be a shame.

  38. I think the software companies are missing the mark. It’s great that they get that kids work around any barrier you put up and do more than just talk with creepy old men. However, there is no substitute for a conversation with kids, since they are the ones who will be out there in the danger zone making choices. No software company can simulate it, nor should they. If a parent is seeking a software solution for online child safety and reputation management, the parent doesn’t get it.

    In four years as a middle school teacher by day and online child decoy by night, I got some great anecdotes from students who didn’t know what I did when I went home in the evenings. There was a high schooler who saw Dateline and talked with her mom about it and they agreed that she would be safer if she didn’t participate in a particular social networking site. I got the story because she was defending not being a member to a friend of hers with an air of “I can’t believe you participate there. That’s dangerous.” Another time my students found out and told me about the conversations they initiated with their parents. Two years later one reported that she still remembered the safety lessons I imparted to them.

    Software companies who are trying to sell something in this space are not serving their customers the best they can, in my opinion. If Norton were to set up an online community for parents to participate in and get tips and guidelines on how to have those conversations with their kids, when to have them and what to do if it’s too late… That would be valuable. I’d like to see them add value that way rather than another product that feeds a horrible misconception: that software can take the place of conversation and understanding of the danger. If they wanted to monetize it, offer live webinars to members of the community for a reasonable charge ($5 per IP.)

    The dangers to our kids are readily apparent right now, and they are constantly shifting. Right now I see the danger to children as being through parents, actually. Parents see their kids in danger or endangering their future and want to protect them but are ill-informed to do so. In seeking out tools to help them, they get taken prey by software companies promising them their child’s safety and security if they buy this product. I hope Norton doesn’t fall into this group of predatory companies. That would be a shame.

  39. Great post, Robert!

    I worked in network security for several years and this topic is near and dear to me, since I have a kid of my own.

    What I do is fairly easy and requires no special software:

    I have a hardware router and firewall and I do a couple of things. First, I filter access to my home network by MAC address to keep the wi-fi thieves away. Secondly, I take my kid’s IP address and I set up a whitelist of websites. She can only visit those sites and no other. I check her computer and the router and firewall on a regular basis to ensure they are doing their respective jobs. I set up my kid’s laptop with Ubuntu and I’ve set up additional filters on her machine to jive with the settings on the router and firewall. Works like a charm. No extra money needed.

    Whitelists are far and away better than blackists because they are easier to implement and you don’t have to worry about something sneaking in and around your particular set of values you establish for your family. Likewise, your kid can only go where you deem fit. I’ve helped others with this and it works great. Most hardware routers also have a time restriction function to keep the kids off the net when you don’t want them on.

    Let’s see more security stuff, Robert. I like when you wax poetic on multiple tech topics.

  40. Great post, Robert!

    I worked in network security for several years and this topic is near and dear to me, since I have a kid of my own.

    What I do is fairly easy and requires no special software:

    I have a hardware router and firewall and I do a couple of things. First, I filter access to my home network by MAC address to keep the wi-fi thieves away. Secondly, I take my kid’s IP address and I set up a whitelist of websites. She can only visit those sites and no other. I check her computer and the router and firewall on a regular basis to ensure they are doing their respective jobs. I set up my kid’s laptop with Ubuntu and I’ve set up additional filters on her machine to jive with the settings on the router and firewall. Works like a charm. No extra money needed.

    Whitelists are far and away better than blackists because they are easier to implement and you don’t have to worry about something sneaking in and around your particular set of values you establish for your family. Likewise, your kid can only go where you deem fit. I’ve helped others with this and it works great. Most hardware routers also have a time restriction function to keep the kids off the net when you don’t want them on.

    Let’s see more security stuff, Robert. I like when you wax poetic on multiple tech topics.

  41. @RB

    Quoth ye: “Young kids learning to use the Internet are the rising stars of the information age and it is our task to guide them without censoring them.”

    I fully agree with this sentence shy of the last three words. It’s a parents’ job to censor their child. That’s what movie and game ratings are for — to help parents make informed decisions concerning what their kids see and hear. I know I censor my daughter and she appreciates it. She knows there is evil out there and she wants no part of it.

    I worked as a network investigator for a very large ISP, and I can tell you first-hand that there are some very, very evil people out there that want to harm you and your kids. I’ve seen stuff I wish I could forget. I’ve families destroyed by what’s online, marriages broken, kids exposed to all manner of evil and mischief.

    Parents who fail to censor their kids’ online activities fail them morally. Full stop. There is no arguing this. Young kids through about 15 should not be allowed to have access to an unfettered internet. Yes, they are the future of tech, but a damaged future holds no promise. I believe the statistics Robert provided are rather conservative based on my own observations in the network security world. It’s better to be a little strict and have your kids mad then to have them become a victim.

  42. @RB

    Quoth ye: “Young kids learning to use the Internet are the rising stars of the information age and it is our task to guide them without censoring them.”

    I fully agree with this sentence shy of the last three words. It’s a parents’ job to censor their child. That’s what movie and game ratings are for — to help parents make informed decisions concerning what their kids see and hear. I know I censor my daughter and she appreciates it. She knows there is evil out there and she wants no part of it.

    I worked as a network investigator for a very large ISP, and I can tell you first-hand that there are some very, very evil people out there that want to harm you and your kids. I’ve seen stuff I wish I could forget. I’ve families destroyed by what’s online, marriages broken, kids exposed to all manner of evil and mischief.

    Parents who fail to censor their kids’ online activities fail them morally. Full stop. There is no arguing this. Young kids through about 15 should not be allowed to have access to an unfettered internet. Yes, they are the future of tech, but a damaged future holds no promise. I believe the statistics Robert provided are rather conservative based on my own observations in the network security world. It’s better to be a little strict and have your kids mad then to have them become a victim.

  43. Thanks for the article, I agree with all the commenters that say it’s important to be involved in your children’s lives–not just talking TO them but WITH them.

    What I think will be interesting, is the current generation of tweeners and 20-somethings having to explain all their online “appearances” to their kids.
    Think about it:
    “Mommy, what are Girls Gone Wild?”, “Daddy, who is Michael Phelps and what is that you are handing him?”

  44. Thanks for the article, I agree with all the commenters that say it’s important to be involved in your children’s lives–not just talking TO them but WITH them.

    What I think will be interesting, is the current generation of tweeners and 20-somethings having to explain all their online “appearances” to their kids.
    Think about it:
    “Mommy, what are Girls Gone Wild?”, “Daddy, who is Michael Phelps and what is that you are handing him?”

  45. So parents have to actually talk to their own children now? This is America. Only queers and hippies talk to their kids. Must be that Obama guy’s fault. Did you know he’s a secret muslin?

  46. So parents have to actually talk to their own children now? This is America. Only queers and hippies talk to their kids. Must be that Obama guy’s fault. Did you know he’s a secret muslin?

  47. I think the first step to protect kids is to educate parents. The problem is the big technology gap between the technology that most parents “grew up” with and how kids use technology these days. Some parents believe that keeping their kids away from technology at home will keep them safe.. Those are the kids that are at the highest risk – because all kids will have access to technology at some place at some time. Beyond that – technology is already apart of how tweens/teens communicate.

    So I suggest to all parents to spend time educating themselves then spend time educating their kids. Implement internet security on all computers at home – but also explain why it is important to have security. Try to have computers in public spaces – or if kids have laptops it is important to set timing limitations for internet use.

    Parents also need to understand the technology within a computer. Don’t think that kids won’t figure out how to use the internal video camera to video chat – assume they will and help them understand what is and is NOT appropriate when it comes to video chat (or disable the camera). I could go on, but so happy you got this discussion going.

    I also read “Ask Marian” which is a blogger that works for Symantec and talks about online security and safety for kids and families.
    http://community.norton.com/t5/blogs/blogpage/blog-id/askmarian

  48. I think the first step to protect kids is to educate parents. The problem is the big technology gap between the technology that most parents “grew up” with and how kids use technology these days. Some parents believe that keeping their kids away from technology at home will keep them safe.. Those are the kids that are at the highest risk – because all kids will have access to technology at some place at some time. Beyond that – technology is already apart of how tweens/teens communicate.

    So I suggest to all parents to spend time educating themselves then spend time educating their kids. Implement internet security on all computers at home – but also explain why it is important to have security. Try to have computers in public spaces – or if kids have laptops it is important to set timing limitations for internet use.

    Parents also need to understand the technology within a computer. Don’t think that kids won’t figure out how to use the internal video camera to video chat – assume they will and help them understand what is and is NOT appropriate when it comes to video chat (or disable the camera). I could go on, but so happy you got this discussion going.

    I also read “Ask Marian” which is a blogger that works for Symantec and talks about online security and safety for kids and families.
    http://community.norton.com/t5/blogs/blogpage/blog-id/askmarian

  49. I think that this article and accompanying comments are on the mark. However, educating the children is not the only solution – firstly, because software/hardware safeguards must be in place as well, and moreover the adults need the background and knowledge of the situation at hand to control and/or fight it.

    Plus, children aside, I believe that safeguards must be in place for adults as well. Whether it is a monitoring program, filtering software, firewall, or what-have-you, I think that human nature might force even adults to do that which they might know is wrong and should not be done. The only way to safeguard that activity is to have the technology in place to keep them from wrongdoing.

  50. I think that this article and accompanying comments are on the mark. However, educating the children is not the only solution – firstly, because software/hardware safeguards must be in place as well, and moreover the adults need the background and knowledge of the situation at hand to control and/or fight it.

    Plus, children aside, I believe that safeguards must be in place for adults as well. Whether it is a monitoring program, filtering software, firewall, or what-have-you, I think that human nature might force even adults to do that which they might know is wrong and should not be done. The only way to safeguard that activity is to have the technology in place to keep them from wrongdoing.

  51. Timing couldn’t be more perfect, my daughters’s elementary school Principal called last night to remind us of the Online Safety meeting for parents and 6th graders that we are having Thursday night.
    I will be forwarding this thread to her.
    As with most of life’s challenges Education and Context are vital.

  52. Timing couldn’t be more perfect, my daughters’s elementary school Principal called last night to remind us of the Online Safety meeting for parents and 6th graders that we are having Thursday night.
    I will be forwarding this thread to her.
    As with most of life’s challenges Education and Context are vital.

  53. Great post. It’s nice to see greater attention being paid to what is an ever increasing challenge for today’s kids. Norton is the lead sponsor for a special edition Education.com has published on bullying on-line and at a school — http://www.education.com/topic/school-bullying-teasing/. There are a number of things parents can do to give their kids the presence of mind to handle tough social situations – both as the bullied and as the bully.

    The new Norton product is a major innovation and gives parents the tools they need to begin an active dialogue with their kids and to help protect them from the uglier side of the Internet. I recommend every parent of a school-aged child check out the product when it becomes generally available.

  54. Great post. It’s nice to see greater attention being paid to what is an ever increasing challenge for today’s kids. Norton is the lead sponsor for a special edition Education.com has published on bullying on-line and at a school — http://www.education.com/topic/school-bullying-teasing/. There are a number of things parents can do to give their kids the presence of mind to handle tough social situations – both as the bullied and as the bully.

    The new Norton product is a major innovation and gives parents the tools they need to begin an active dialogue with their kids and to help protect them from the uglier side of the Internet. I recommend every parent of a school-aged child check out the product when it becomes generally available.

  55. Picking up on some of the earlier notes some of you will probably be interested to know that there are software solutions available already to protect children using mobile phones. The general concensus that I’ve seen from children’s charities and child experts is that while there are definite risks to children using mobile phones from a your age the downsides are outweighed by the positives – both safety and convenience. Secondly, it’s just unrealistic to think that you’ll be able to resist giving your child a mobile phone sooner rather than later – ‘you can’t duck technology, you have to deal with it!’.

    I’m the CEO of an Irish start-up software company (www.sentrywireless.com) that has developed and launched software that helps ‘teach children about responsible mobile usage’. We won the title of “Most Innovagtive Mobile Start-up in the Asia Pacific” for it’s launch in Singapore. Using a regular mobile phone (none of those kiddy ones that children laugh at) parents are allowed to ‘approve the numbers in the phone book with a PIN number. Once they’ve done this (it takes less than 15 seconds from first touching teh handset to completion) it means that that not only are these the only numbers the child can call or text but also (more importantly?) these are the only people who can contact the child – so only approved people get through and not strangers! (a white list of approved contacts)

    James from earlier today (7.24am) I think got it just right in terms of what a good solution should do:

    SMART technology should be able to: (allow me to repeat)

    1) Have a part to play to help educate children (without taking away the fun)
    2) Provide reassurance to parents (by providing them information when there is a problem)
    3) And not be spying! (which creates parent/child trust issues).

    We think that when the child is young / naive the parent will control the phone tightly. As the child matures and shows that they are more aware they will have freer use of the phone and at some point the parent will give them the PIN number so that they can enter and remove numbers as they choose .. but still be protected from complete strangers. Eventually they will have no controls.

    Kidsafe has a parent alert built in so that if the child tries to remove the SIM card and place it in another phone that miught not protect the parent will automatically send an SMS to the parent warning them. It also captures the main details of the blocked calls and text messages which only the parent can see. This allows the parent detect if there might be an issue e.g. they see a strange number trying repeatedly to contact the child late at night.

    However, to James third point about NOT spying) it doesn’t capture the content of any text message – sent to a blocked or approved number. It could do from a technical perspective but we believe that it’s a could of steps too far and would create real trust issues with the child.

    Without wishing to scare anyone there’s lots of hard data and media reports showing that almost half (39% in Ireland) of kids are either bullied themselves or know a close friend who has been bullied via their mobile phone. Because of the nature of the device children use them outside of the home and away from their parents protective reach. That increases the risk.

    Kidsafe has already been launched with a mobile operator in Ireland and also Singapore. Unfortunately we’re not in a position to sell directly to consumers but as is always the case in these circumstances the only way that you’ll get the protection for your child is by demanding it. Kidsafe isn’t the only solution available to operators (though I do think it’s the best!!) but if you want your kids to be protected you should tell them and let them know – call customer service, write an email and ask what they’re doing and point out other operators (www.m1.com.sg) and http://www.three.ie have proactively addressed the situation. Apologies for going on so long – can’t help but be passionate.

  56. Picking up on some of the earlier notes some of you will probably be interested to know that there are software solutions available already to protect children using mobile phones. The general concensus that I’ve seen from children’s charities and child experts is that while there are definite risks to children using mobile phones from a your age the downsides are outweighed by the positives – both safety and convenience. Secondly, it’s just unrealistic to think that you’ll be able to resist giving your child a mobile phone sooner rather than later – ‘you can’t duck technology, you have to deal with it!’.

    I’m the CEO of an Irish start-up software company (www.sentrywireless.com) that has developed and launched software that helps ‘teach children about responsible mobile usage’. We won the title of “Most Innovagtive Mobile Start-up in the Asia Pacific” for it’s launch in Singapore. Using a regular mobile phone (none of those kiddy ones that children laugh at) parents are allowed to ‘approve the numbers in the phone book with a PIN number. Once they’ve done this (it takes less than 15 seconds from first touching teh handset to completion) it means that that not only are these the only numbers the child can call or text but also (more importantly?) these are the only people who can contact the child – so only approved people get through and not strangers! (a white list of approved contacts)

    James from earlier today (7.24am) I think got it just right in terms of what a good solution should do:

    SMART technology should be able to: (allow me to repeat)

    1) Have a part to play to help educate children (without taking away the fun)
    2) Provide reassurance to parents (by providing them information when there is a problem)
    3) And not be spying! (which creates parent/child trust issues).

    We think that when the child is young / naive the parent will control the phone tightly. As the child matures and shows that they are more aware they will have freer use of the phone and at some point the parent will give them the PIN number so that they can enter and remove numbers as they choose .. but still be protected from complete strangers. Eventually they will have no controls.

    Kidsafe has a parent alert built in so that if the child tries to remove the SIM card and place it in another phone that miught not protect the parent will automatically send an SMS to the parent warning them. It also captures the main details of the blocked calls and text messages which only the parent can see. This allows the parent detect if there might be an issue e.g. they see a strange number trying repeatedly to contact the child late at night.

    However, to James third point about NOT spying) it doesn’t capture the content of any text message – sent to a blocked or approved number. It could do from a technical perspective but we believe that it’s a could of steps too far and would create real trust issues with the child.

    Without wishing to scare anyone there’s lots of hard data and media reports showing that almost half (39% in Ireland) of kids are either bullied themselves or know a close friend who has been bullied via their mobile phone. Because of the nature of the device children use them outside of the home and away from their parents protective reach. That increases the risk.

    Kidsafe has already been launched with a mobile operator in Ireland and also Singapore. Unfortunately we’re not in a position to sell directly to consumers but as is always the case in these circumstances the only way that you’ll get the protection for your child is by demanding it. Kidsafe isn’t the only solution available to operators (though I do think it’s the best!!) but if you want your kids to be protected you should tell them and let them know – call customer service, write an email and ask what they’re doing and point out other operators (www.m1.com.sg) and http://www.three.ie have proactively addressed the situation. Apologies for going on so long – can’t help but be passionate.

  57. [...] we’re at it, please see a post by Robert Scoble about Keeping kids online safe. The ideas in that post are relevant from a different perspective. The more we read comments for [...]

  58. Some people here seem to put in serious efforts to “protect” their kids from outside threads.

    I wonder how these people organize their social live. Are they aware that 90% of all real life sex crimes against children are committed by people close to the kids: Family members, friends of the family, teachers … ??

    Yes, we also teach our kids why they shouldn’t provide personal information on public web sites, we talk about what might happen to them when they visit disturbing web pages (having ugly dreams for two weeks at least). But at the end this is just part of the normal “get them ready for the world” education.

    Its on the same level as teaching them how to cross the street or what to eat and what not. Nothing more, nothing less. Just something what must be done but no reason to panic.

  59. Some people here seem to put in serious efforts to “protect” their kids from outside threads.

    I wonder how these people organize their social live. Are they aware that 90% of all real life sex crimes against children are committed by people close to the kids: Family members, friends of the family, teachers … ??

    Yes, we also teach our kids why they shouldn’t provide personal information on public web sites, we talk about what might happen to them when they visit disturbing web pages (having ugly dreams for two weeks at least). But at the end this is just part of the normal “get them ready for the world” education.

    Its on the same level as teaching them how to cross the street or what to eat and what not. Nothing more, nothing less. Just something what must be done but no reason to panic.

  60. InternetSafety.com provides an array of safety features for kids online – their program “Safe Eyes” sends parents text messages to alert them when their child has attempted to access something inappropriate. This leads to more open and honest discussions between parents and children as opposed to just blindly blocking websites with no explanation.

    They recently release an application for the iPhone, the only one of its kind, that will protect kids on the go!

  61. InternetSafety.com provides an array of safety features for kids online – their program “Safe Eyes” sends parents text messages to alert them when their child has attempted to access something inappropriate. This leads to more open and honest discussions between parents and children as opposed to just blindly blocking websites with no explanation.

    They recently release an application for the iPhone, the only one of its kind, that will protect kids on the go!

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