Keeping Your Child Safe In Cyberspace

General Topics: 

by Kenneth Nemire, PhD., CPE

The Internet can be a wonderful tool for your child. It's a great way to search for information and to communicate with people all over the world. Many children prefer email, instant messaging, and chat rooms to the telephone for talking with each other. 

The power and flexibility of the Internet can also be abused. While there are many online sources of problems, such as receiving unwanted email, this article will focus primarily on helping to keep your child safe from online sexual predators. 

A recent study showed that one in five children received sexual solicitation over the Internet. This study found that 65% of incidents occurred in chat rooms, online places where many people can have online conversations in real-time. Another 24% occurred with instant messaging [IM], a way to send text messages instantaneously. While avoiding these programs may be one solution, avoiding common problems with these programs can let your child benefit from using these communication tools and still avoid online predation. 

Online predators can find information about your child, such as an email address, in a number of different ways -- including member profiles on websites, hanging out in chat rooms, and personal websites. With your child's email address, they can use a search engine to find a name, address, and phone number. Further searches of websites and newsgroups may yield information about hobbies, school, and other family members. You can prevent such online problems by making sure your child's information is not available. Here are some tips to help keep your child safe in cyberspace. 



  • Discuss the benefits and potential dangers of Internet use with your child to help her make good decisions when online.
  • Ask your child who she communicates with on the Internet; be sure you and your child can "put a face" on everyone she communicates with online by email, chat, instant messenger, and other programs.
  • Remind your child that people online may not be who they say they are.


  • Place the family's computer in a common room where it is easier to supervise.
  • Learn online acronyms that your child may use to warn their chat or IM buddies to watch what they say when a parent is nearby: NP [nosy parents], P911 [parents nearby -- watch your language], PA [parent alert], PAL [parents are listening], PAN  [parents are near], PAW [parents are watching], POS [parents over shoulder].


  • Provide your child with rules for using online tools like email, IM, and chat rooms. Post them near your computer monitor so they are easy to see.
  • Be sure the only people on your "buddy list," "friend list," or "contact list" are people you and your parent or guardian know personally.
  • Do not use an email or screen name that gives out personal information about yourself such as your name, your age or year of birth, your address, your city, or your school.
  • Do not provide personal information about you or your family members, such as name, mailing address, telephone number, name or location of school, parent's work address or telephone number, email address, photograph of self without first checking with parent or guardian.
  • Never reply to messages that are inappropriate or make you feel uncomfortable. Let parent know if anything unusual or inappropriate happens online. Your parent can then notify the Internet Service Provider.
  • Don't download anything without first asking a parent.
  • Don't do anything asked by someone online that you wouldn't usually do.
  • Always tell your parent if someone you met online writes things that are mean or make you uncomfortable, or asks that you keep a secret, or wants to meet you in person.
  • Do not meet with people in the "real world," if you first met them online, unless you tell your parent first, and your parent comes with you to the meeting, and the meeting is held in a public place.


NetSmartz at ; , and
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children,
You can report anything that is threatening or involves child pornography to local law enforcement and to CyberTipline [ or 800-843-5678]

Following these guidelines is easy, and can help you make sure your child is safe in cyberspace. It's well worth the effort.

Reprinted with the author's permission. Copyright C 2005 Kenneth Nemire. All rights reserved.

[Dr. Nemire is an ergonomics and human factors consultant based in Soquel, California.  Ergonomics and human factors have to do with designing things that people interact with such as tools, computer workstations, websites --- so they are safe, effective, and easy to learn and use. He can be reached at 831-462-9176,, or]

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