how do you protect your kids online?

I make my living on the internet. I’ve been doing so since 1995. I believe deeply in the power of the internet; it’s by far the most powerful medium in the history of the world. But it has its dangers. So, how do I respond when people ask, “Scott, how do you protect your kids online?”

I’m writing today because the U.S. Department of Justice, in cooperation with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the Ad Council, has started a new ad campaign that I feel is very effective. The TV ads are powerful, yet simple and easy to understand. They drive the important points home better than I’ve ever been able to.

I’m going to talk about the ads, but first, my initial response to such a question is always to tell folks what I do in my home. I’ve got three daughters who, because of their Dad’s profession, have been using the internet since they were quite young. By the age of 10, each of them had their own e-mail address. At the age of 9, my youngest was creating her own web page (though it seems that she has chosen not to follow in the old man’s footsteps).

So, what do I do at home? One word: talk. My wife and I talk to our daughters. We explain the dangers. We talk about their lives, their friends, their activities. And now, we make sure they have all seen the new ads on TV. We don’t use any filtering software. We don’t monitor the web sites they visit. And while I have full access to my daughters’ web site activity logs as well as their e-mail accounts, I have yet to look at them.

Now, I know that some folks may feel that this is irresponsible. There’s always the family that says they trusted their child, and something bad happened anyway. Well, to that, all I can say is that you have to make that judgement for yourself. I’m not in any way even suggesting that you use our method, because I don’t know you. I’m just telling you what we do, and more importantly telling you that it works.

But I’ve also talked to parents who are simply confused about all the options, confused about the technology, and just have no knowledge of what actual steps they can take, or how much it would cost them to do anything. And, there’s always the situation that the child knows more about the computer than the parent. I saw a great cartoon once of a mother looking over her son’s shoulder at the computer, asking him if he would mind installing this child filtering software.

So, to the parent that just doesn’t know what to do, I do indeed say, TALK TO YOUR KIDS. It’s free and you can do it today and it’s better than doing nothing. And PLEASE use the new TV ads. If you don’t see them on TV, they are available for free at CyberTipline. Watch them yourself first, so you know what they’re saying. Then, even if you don’t know what to say to your children, watch the videos with them. Make sure they understand the message of each one. Let the videos start the conversation for you.

To make it convenient, here are links to the four commercials:

The above ads, along with printed materials and radio ads, are all available on the CyberTipline web site. Be sure to browse around that site a bit to see all the other resources available.

If you do nothing at all, at least talk. They’ll listen.

National Center for Missing & Exploited Children