Keeping our kids safe

This is the Online column, written for The Southland Times)

A Nelson mum’s outrage at the prospect of her 12-year-old daughter being sent porn via her Bebo profile probably serves as atimely reminder to parents that it’s up to us to make sure our kids are safe online.

The girl was sent dodgy text messages and photos after setting up a profile on social networking site Bebo.

There’s absolutely no excuse for the bahaviour of the scumbags who sent disgusting photos of themselves and I firmly believe those who try to groom children online for illicit offline activities should have their dangly bits removed. That said, we also need to make sure our kids know the rules for what they should and shouldn’t be posting online (phone numbers fall into the ‘’shouldn’t post online” category) and we also need to take responsibility for knowing what our kids are up to and what sites they are surfing.

At the age of 12, my son knew that posting his phone number, or any personal details, online was the type of thing that would mean he’d be banned from using the computer until he was somewhere in his mid-30s. And before anyone tells me it’s different for boys, take a look at one of the most frightening sites on the internet, Perverted Justice.

These guys go online posing as kids, young teens and pre-teens. With depressing regularity both male and female are approached online by adults who want sex. The people who run this site do what they can to stop these mongrels but, sadly,what they see is probably only the tip of the iceberg.

The internet is a double edged sword. The benefits it offers are huge but so are the dangers. Letting a child loose on the net without full supervision is like letting them go on an uncensored viewing spree in your local video shop — you know there’s good, safe stuff they can look at but there’s also plenty of smut lurking on the shelves out the back.

Make sure you tell your kids the rules for using the internet and, more importantly, monitor their activity online so you know they are following those rules.

You can use a net nanny type of software to control where you children can go online but it’s worth remembering that computer-savvy kids can often find ways around this so it doesn’t pay to rely heavily on the software doing what is essentially your job — protecting your child.

Some parents opt for keylogging software, which keeps a record of everything typed. While this smacks of spying, I guess I can understand why keyloggers are used when weighing up the safety risk.

At the very least, have your computer in a living area where you can be around when the younger members of your household are using it. Having mum or dad lurking in the background is likely to make them think twice about logging on to unsavoury sites or starting up a chat with someone they shouldn’t.

If you want to know more about online safety, try the Internet Safety Group.


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