How to Keep Your Gifted Child Safe Online
Davidson Institute for Talent Development
June 2006

This article covers the many potential dangers children can encounter while on the Internet. Parents are presented a number of options on how to help prevent these hazards. As described in the article, options include: Direct interaction with your child, additional help through online resources, and filtering and monitoring software.

In today’s era of advanced technology, the availability of the World Wide Web is both a blessing and a curse. Although having such a wealth of information at your child’s fingertips is helpful for both homework and personal interest, unanticipated concerns and genuine dangers lurk behind the computer screen. Recent research conducted by Teen Research Unlimited (TRU) asked teens about their internet usage, behavior, and parental impact on both. The results announced by John Walsh, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and Cox Communications reveal a terrifying phenomenon that is becoming more common on the Internet everyday; teens are engaging is risky behavior, including communicating with and personally meeting strangers they encounter on the Web. Another survey, performed by iSAFE.org divulges another trend that is troubling teenagers on the Internet, cyber bullying. Bullying is moving off of the playground and into personal web pages, inboxes, and chat rooms. Fortunately, the responses also conveyed a parent or guardian influence can greatly impact how safely teens use the internet.

We have been receiving many inquires about Internet safety as of late due to the increase in media coverage on the topic. With the rise in popularity of instant messaging, chat rooms, and web communities such as MySpace.com, and their availability to anyone, it is becoming more important for parents to be Internet savvy and educate themselves. A grim host of often tragic statistics substantiates the fact that parents need to take active control of their children’s Internet usage.

The U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention published a survey conducted by Crimes against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire in March of 2001. The astounding results documented that one in five children received unwanted “sexual solicitation” on the Internet. Ninety-seven percent of the perpetrators were strangers to these children. Only twenty-four percent of victims reported the incidents to their parents. TRU reported one-third of teens surveyed have considered meeting someone they only know over the Web. Fourteen percent of these students actually had a face-to-face encounter. Over half of the teens have personal profiles and fifty percent of those contain pictures of themselves. The majority of participants in this survey are contacted by people they don’t know. Almost fifty percent of them reply and begin chatting with virtual strangers. iSAFE.org found that almost half of students questioned have been bullied online, and fifty-eight percent claim that someone has said mean or hurtful things to them, often more than once. One-third of teens questioned by TRU report their parents know “very little” or “nothing” about their online activities. iSAFE.org discovered over half of respondents, in grades 4-8, not told their parents about bullying they have experienced online.

There are tips and tools available to parents that assist them in monitoring their child’s Internet usage. There are guidelines parents can follow, web sites they can peruse, or software that can be purchased to further ensure a child’s safe journey on the Internet. Following are some resources you may find helpful in understanding the importance of web monitoring as well as how to discuss the topic with your children.

Tips for monitoring Internet use:

  • Discuss and establish a set of reasonable rules for computer and Internet use with your child. Post them by the computer.
  • Put the computer in a common area in the house.
  • Contemplate limiting time on the Internet for homework and brief social interaction.
  • Encourage your child to share negative incidents that occur while he/she is on the Internet. Help your child report them to the appropriate authorities.
  • Make use of the parental controls available with Internet browsers.
  • Take the time to search through the history of web sites that they have been visiting or pictures that have been viewed.
  • Consider buying a filtering or monitoring software program.

Online Resources:

  • Wired Safety was created by an Internet lawyer who desired to educate people about the Internet and its potential dangers. There is a wealth of information for students, parents, law enforcement, educators, librarians, and media. Resources range from free classes, to tips for dealing with cyber bullies, to a free downloadable booklet, Parenting Online, to a search engine powered by the Wired Kids (Wired Safety’s kid friendly counterpart) to ensure that only appropriate sites show as results.
  • iSAFE is a non-profit organization founded in 1998 with a grant from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. This site provides tips to parents for keeping their children safe on the Internet, and allows you to sign up to receive a monthly newsletter about Internet safety.
  • The Safe Kids website includes a monthly newsletter as well as a database of articles for parents, educators, and law enforcement about Internet safety. They also have printable “pledges” for parents and students to sign about safe Internet use. Safe Kids also has affiliated websites, www.safeteens.org and http://www.blogsafety.com
  • “The Internet Keep Safe Coalition group teaches basic rules of Internet safety to children and parents, reaching them online and in school. Governors and/or first spouses formed this coalition in partnership with a growing list of crime prevention organizations, law enforcement agencies, foundations and corporate sponsors.”
  • Net Smartz, an all inclusive website, contains hundreds of resources for students, parents, educators, and law enforcement. It is an educational resource courtesy of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.
  • The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children created this website to help parents gain Internet savvy and teach children about safety on the Internet. There is a list of popular Internet lingo available as well as quizzes for parents and children to take about Internet safety.

Filtering Software:

  • Net Nanny 5.1 filters and blocks content on the web, chat rooms, email, and file sharing. “Lots of features, good all around. New Version 5.0 has lots of new abilities, including an effective pop-up/under stopper. Also great privacy filter so kids don't reveal info.” Review by PC Magazine.
  • CYBERsitter 9.0 filters and blocks content from the web, newsgroups, chat rooms, messaging programs, and email. “This product is solid as a rock. Good for parents with computer savvy children, as the program is quite secure. 30 Content categories!” courtesy of software4parents.com. Review by PC Magazine.
  • KidsWatch 3.0 allows parents to limit the amount of time that children spend in various computer applications. “This is a great product for parents who don't necessarily want to filter content, but want to control how and when the computer is used.” courtesy of software4parents.com.

Monitoring Software:

  • Spector Pro allows parents to locally monitor what children are doing on the computer without them knowing. “Hands down the most rock solid and powerful product available. Won PC magazine Editor's Choice. Absolute MOST reliable and secret. Excellent LIVE Tech support.” courtesy of www.software4parents.com.
  • Davidson Institute Family Consultant Judith Bynum raves about the program. “I would highly recommend this program for anyone who would like to monitor their child a bit more closely. I’m a parent of a delightful 13 year old gifted daughter. While I’m on the computer everyday, it is a known fact that she is much better at computers than I am. So while I had given all the warnings, attempted all the lame ways I knew to monitor her (including taking the keyboard to work with me), putting the computer in the main living room, creating my own pseudo MySpace account and attempting to learn its intricacies, I knew she was on the computer too much. After installing Spector Pro, I found several pictures of her on the internet that she had put out there, and the astonishingly long hours she was spending on “homework” was quite revealing. While my daughter is a great kid, monitoring the internet (where nothing is truly private) is an extreme need, and has become a powerful tool at my home. BTW- I didn’t have to be a ‘genius’ to figure it out!”
  • Spectorsoft Combo allows parents to both monitor children’s computer usage both locally and remotely. “Great Deal! You get both Spector PRO and eBlaster for $30 off!” courtesy of software4parents.com.
  • IamBigBrother 9.1 also allows parents to locally monitor their children’s computer activities secretly. “Good tool for Monitoring Instant Messages, AOL, web-based email, keystrokes, screenshots and more! Best value, but not as reliable as others.” courtesy of software4parents.com.
  • eBlaster 5.0 allows parents to remotely monitor computer usage at their home. “Only product with REMOTE INSTALL...don't need access to computer. Forwards all email & chat instantly. Excellent LIVE Tech support.” courtesy of software4parents.com.

Disclaimer: The Davidson Institute for Talent Development does not specifically endorse any of the products or websites listed.


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