My 9-year-old son spends a lot of time on the computer surfing the Internet and instant messaging his friends. But I worry about him getting into trouble with strangers online. What can I do to protect him?
Simple surfing and instant messaging with friends are common activities for kids — and generally safe, if you've discussed some rules of use with them. Chatting with strangers, however, may be a different story. Although there's no way to know the actual risk, the FBI cautions that kids whose Internet activity isn't monitored are most at risk for being exploited.
Keep the computer in a common room in the house, rather than in your son's bedroom. Take an interest in the sites your son is visiting and the people with whom he is chatting (some shady characters pose as kids or teens in chat rooms to seem less threatening). Warn him never to give out his personal information (his phone number, name, address, school name, etc.), agree to meet in-person anyone he meets in a chat room, or share any photographs.
Urge your son to introduce you to any new "friends" he meets online and to tell you if he ever feels uncomfortable about conversations that take place. Most important, talk to him about the dangers of interacting with strangers online and remind him that people online often don't tell the truth. The FBI also recommends that parents maintain access to young kids' online accounts and randomly check their email.
Finally, you can use parental controls offered by your Internet service provider or through blocking and filtering software.
Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: July 2013