These are some of the dangers the Internet poses for minors, says the Catholic Agency for Social Concern.
The agency outlines its concerns in a statement entitled “Children and the Net: A Short Guide for Parents,” posted on the Web site of the Catholic Communications Service of the bishops in England and Wales.
The statement says: “Now that the Internet has become so common, many parents are asking: How do I help my children use it wisely? This short guide is designed to give a few tips to help answer that question.”
There follows a list of suggestions which underline the importance of exploring the Internet with children and talking about it with them. “The best protection is a healthy Christian family life in which family members talk and pray together,” the statement says.
The statement also highlights “Common Worries and Signs of Trouble,” one of which is that children could spend so much time on the Internet that they neglect homework, outdoor activities, or social life with friends and family.
Among the “Ten Key Rules to Keep Safe” are:
— Explore the Net with your children and learn to use it yourself. Know the sites your children are using — not all are educational — help them find the best ones.
— Agree who uses the Net, when and for how long. Put the computer in a family area of the home and if you have interactive TV have rules for that too.
— Encourage children to tell you about any e-mails or anything online that makes them feel uncomfortable or bothers them.
— Explain that personal details, passwords and credit card numbers are private so they should always check with you if anyone asks for details.
— Take time to learn about parental controls and software to filter out Internet material, but remember: no method is foolproof yet.
Among the “Common Worries and Signs of Trouble” are:
— Inappropriate contacts. Children may talk with people online who are not who they seem. Chat room encounters could lead to an exchange of e-mails or mobile phone text messages. Children might give out information or arrange a meeting that could risk their safety or the safety of other family members. In a few cases, pedophiles have used online services and bulletin boards to gain a child’s confidence and then arranged a face-to-face meeting. Watch out for a child becoming secretive about the use of the Internet or their mobile, or unknown numbers appearing on your phone bill.
— Exposure to inappropriate material. Children may accidentally or deliberately access sexual, violent, or racist material. Watch out for a child becoming secretive about time online or downloading files onto floppy discs or CDs.
The agency statement also mentions online resources, including:
— http://safety.ngfl.gov.uk. Has a guide from the British Department of Education on safe use of the Internet. Also has special advice for schools.
— www.internetwatch.org.uk. The Internet Watch Foundation has been set up to combat illegal use of the Internet.
— www.nccbuscc.org/comm/cyberspace.htm. Text of the U.S. bishops’ message “Your Family and Cyberspace.”
— www.nch.org.uk. Contains information produced by NCH Action for Children.
More information is available by e-mail at [email protected].