Homeschoolers now number nearly 2 million in the United
States. The majority of these homeschool
households use the internet regularly.
For information on how well homeschoolers are
doing both socially and academically, as well as statistics on homeschool
teens and college, check out the National Home Education Research Institute
As parents, one of our greatest fears is that our children may encounter a
predator--in the neighborhood, on the playground, perhaps even at church or
We can't let our guard down when it comes to the Internet. We tell our
kids not to talk to strangers--yet we may let them talk to electronic
When you or your child bump into a creep in Cyberspace his presence
extends to your house! And worse than television, where we may be passively
viewing unsavory characters we would ordinarily avoid like the plague, with
the Internet we even interact with them!
If you would like to research print resources, I recommend the book
"Danger Zones: What Parents Should Know About the Internet," by
Bill Biggar and Joe Myers. A quick glance at the contents: The Problem of
Anonymity, It's Not America Online's Internet, Chatrooms: Cyber-Socials or
Danger Zones? and Trolling For Perverts. For real-time child protection and
safety information visit Save Our Children -
We're not talking about government censorship--unless you object to the
idea of deciding for yourself what's best for your children. As home
educators, we are our own censors, not the government.
We also won't go into netiquette; I'll bet you already know how to be
I am not a computer technician or a hardware expert. I'm just a homeschool
parent who has learned to use technology safely, by researching, reading a
lot, and bugging experts for their advice. If I can do it, you can too. Don't
be a victim, in real time or cyberspace!
A. How can you protect your kids (and yourself) from Internet Dangers? A
1. pornographic, violent, or "sick" web sites, which can rob
children of their innocence, and cause emotional or spiritual disturbance.
2. unmonitored newsgroups or chat rooms, where adults or older children pose
as kids, and then prey on the unwary or inexperienced.
3. sites which invade your privacy, cause system crashes or even corrupt
files, and reward your children for giving out personal family
information--possibly even your credit card number?
4. internet addiction
We recommend you treat the Internet as you would any useful but dangerous
tool: with close supervision.
Software programs, such as "Net Nanny" and "Cyber
Patrol," screen out some objectionable areas. Major on-line services
provide screening programs, which you will find in their software libraries,
to their patrons.
Software solutions are hardly foolproof, as many youngsters can find ways
around safeguards better than the adults. There are no guarantees, and new
and dangerous sites crop up daily. If your child's mind or spirit is damaged
by something he comes into contact with, your Internet provider or software
manufacturer will not accept responsibility for it!
Consumer Reports tested screening programs, and none scored perfect all
the time. Microsoft's browser Internet Assistant scored last on ability to
screen porn. Such programs also wind up screening out perfectly innocent
material that might have used the 3-letters S-E-X in a row, or violated other
arbitrary parameters. There is no good substitute for good judgment.
A quick glance at one of those Internet access magazines may amaze you.
Everything is available on the net, including perversions of all kinds. Many
families choose a well-known, major service provider, based on the idea that
some are safer than others. There may be some truth in that. All services are
not alike in this regard, as some are fairly family oriented, while others
cater to the so-called "adult" market. This is one good reason to
use all those free trial offers before you settle for any one service.
You don't have to look for this stuff, it looks for you. Marylin, a
homeschool mom and small business owner, said, "the seemingly harmless
New Users Newsgroup, available through many Internet providers, is a hotbed
of pornographic mess ages. Parents might want to log on first and delete such
questionable newsgroups that automatically appear whenever you pick any
newsgroup. Also, parents should set their browser (software to view web sites
on the Internet) to keep a copy of all e-mail messages sent, so parents can
keep track of what their child is sending."
The safest strategy: children should surf the Internet along with their
parents, not alone. Or download material yourself first, perhaps using
software like WebWacker. At first, when our family planned a science projects
on hamsters, my husband Hugh thought he would allow (then) eight year old
John to look up references to "hamster" by himself. But due to time
restraints, Hugh ended up doing the leg work. "I'm glad I did, as it
turns out!" Hugh explains. "Would you believe the innocent word
"hamster" brought up an indecent web site?"
Bob Jones University Press, Home School Helper suggests the following
Internet safety tips:
1. "Provide adult supervision whenever possible," (When is it
2. "Use "can lists" and "can't lists" to limit
3. "Be aware of the dangers of newsgroups, chat groups, and indexing
4. "Survey materials about Internet safety available on the Internet
With unlimited Internet access so cheap, why sign up for a program limiting
your time to five hours per week? If you fear that someone in your family may
be vulnerable to Internet addiction, it may be a way to learn
self-control. You save money, and it al so encourages you to reduce your time
on the Internet! Many such programs exist, at greatly reduced savings.
Alternately, you could obtain software from your Internet provider to keep
track of the time your family spends on-line.
If addiction of any kind is a problem, or you fear a family member may
become tempted to overindulge, it may be better just to get along without the
Internet, or any other potential danger. We know homeschoolers who
"pulled the plug" for this very reason.
Real neighbors and Support Groups
The Internet can prove to be a useful tool. However, perhaps it cannot take
the place of a physical friend or mentor, that you can see and touch. You
can't cry on an on-line friend's shoulder, hug the person, or lead him by the
When we depend on the Internet for much of our interpersonal contact, are
we in danger of becoming more detached and superficial? I still think that
the most helpful resource for your homeschool will be a homeschool support
group, in your neck of the woods. (Even if you live in a remote area, and
have to start your own.) It is also the most reliable source of information
about legal requirements in your region.
If you haven't found a support group where you feel comfortable yet, check
out these resources. Believe me, it will be worth your time! Attend a few
meetings, and get to know some homeschool families. We can help eachother;
why reinvent the wheel?
Protect Your Computer from viruses,
1. Computer viruses can alter or destroy data and systems. To prevent
computer virus infestation, you may wish to install a virus checker software
program, such as McAfee or Norton AntiVirus, or Disinfectant for Macs, before
you download anything.
It's al so a good idea to scan any computer disk before running it on your
system, even if you get it out of shrink wrap. I can vouch for this, as we
infected our computer with the Stealth C virus.
I freely admit it was due to ignorance. I thought reformatting used disks
would destroy any virus. Not so!
McAfee and Norton Antivirus consistently score tops in studies of
antivirus programs for IBM compatibles. They both offer a free trial download
from the Internet. For Macs, one of the best programs is Disinfectant, which
is distributed for free.
Updating your virus protection is as important as installing it in the
first place. Your anti-virus software will tell you how. Do it about once a
month if you put disks from other computers in your drive, or if you use the
Even if you think you are downloading from a "safe" site, use
anti-virus software anyway. No one can completely guarantee files are
virus-free. You can bet the webmaster won't pay to fix your computer!
Warning from my technical advisor: "If you use public access machines
(PC's at school, especially open college labs, or public libraries)) do not
count on the school or library to protect you. When you get home, scan all
disks that you inserted in the public disk drive. I know someone who got
Form A (a boot sector virus) at a local college lab and then brought the
infection to work and infected her PC there."
Non-writable CD-ROMs are safe to use without scanning, and cannot carry
viruses. You can borrow educational CD-ROMs from the library, worry free. If
only protecting our children were as easy as protecting our computers!
exotics--Most browser bugs (problems in programming) just irritate, some can
be deadly. From Alex Lash, as published in CCS (Columbus Computer Society)
News Magazine, http://www.ccscmh.org:
"A flaw in Microsoft's Internet Explorer 4.0 Beta puts users of the
browser at risk of file corruption on their hard drives." Read about it
Microsoft's security alert page: http://www.microsoft.com/security
"If you use Microsoft® Word for Windows® 95 and download Microsoft Word
documents from the Web, you can read about and download free virus protection
from the Microsoft Word Macro Virus Protection page. The ScanProt and Macro
Virus Protection Tool page a lso provides a freely downloadable virus
The anti-virus program you already use may protect against Word and Excell
Macro Viruses. Check your documentation, if that is a concern for you.
C. Those annoying, unwelcome visitors who don't bother to knock: Spam,
adbots and cookies.
1. Is spam (unsolicited e-mail) a problem for you? Reportedly, Spam
Network will remove your address from their lists upon request. It is:
Global Remove List - http://www.iemmc.org/remove.htm
However, many skeptical people (including me) fear that requesting a spammer
to remove you from a list will not work--in fact, once he knows for sure your
address is correct, he may send you more spam.
Try this free program, SA Proxy from State Labs, to block spam (it was
highly rated by Consumer Reports magazine): http://www.bloomba.com
Also if you post to newsgroups, beware. One unwary post to a newsgroup can
generate pounds of spam in your mailbox. Spammers use programs that grab your
"From" and "Reply to" addresses. New spam programs now
can even pull your address out of the body of the message. These can be
foiled by mutating your address and including a note on how to reply.
Personally, I find spam (and I get a lot of it) less annoying than junk snail
mail. I have trouble going through the stacks of hard copy catalogs and
fliers, but the electronic mail just gets deleted unopened, with one press of
my pinkie! Oh, joy! I wish I could do that to the snail mail.
2. Adware, also called Spyware, installs itself on your computer, without
your knowledge or consent. If you use the internet, you can unknowingly pick
up some uninvited spyware. Use free software called Ad-Aware, from http://lavasoft.nu to get rid of it.
3. Cookies: (Why does the Internet talk about food so much?) These kind of
cookies are not really harmful, just annoying and fattening The Internet
variety of cookie refers to a small piece of data a web site puts on your
hard drive. If this makes you uneasy, or if you think it violates your
privacy, just don't accept them. Netscape warns you about cookies: just keep
clicking the "no" button until it stops asking you if you accept
the cookie. Usually, you can access the web site anyway, without the cookie.
You can set your browser to tell you if someone is trying to send you a
cookie. In Internet Explorer, select View/Options, and check the box
"Warn before accepting cookies." Read more about cookies at http://portal.research.bell-labs.com/~dmk/cookie.html
D. Exploding a few Internet Myths (Some things we don't need to worry
Here's Your Assignment:
I am not a totally unbiased source--who is? I have some pretty strong beliefs
about Internet safety, as well as other things. If any source claims to be
totally unbiased, I would then be very suspicious about that source. All
people are influenced in some manner by their beliefs, world-view and
experiences. And so they should be.
I can't decide what's best for your family,
and neither can anyone else. Only you can do that. You were given the
responsibility of raising your children. So the following test is just for
your own evaluation purposes. Based on your research (following the suggested
links, and any others you may find interesting in your travels), and your
safety self-check, you may wish to correct any deficiencies.
Your Safety Self-Check
Rate how safe, in your opinion, are the following behaviors, with 0 being
the most dangerous, and 10 being most safe. Then go back and check off the
statements that describe your family. This is a check list, not a test, so
there is no right score.
I monitor my children's electronic playmates:
Our kids use the computer whenever they want, in their bedroom.
I use filtering or monitoring software
I've briefed my kids on Internet dangers.
I put the computer in a busy place in our home.
We only look at the Internet together as a family..
I limit time on the "Net
I really have no idea what my kids are doing.
I don't allow my children to use the Internet at all.
2. Viruses and other bugs
I use a reliable anti-virus program All the time, running in the background,
and I update it every month or so.
I use an anti-virus program--I'm not sure how old it is-- to scan disks
before I run them.
I don't use an anti-virus program. I only download files off the Internet
from "reliable places."
I don't have an anti-virus program, I don't download files, and I don't
I open e-mail attachment files.
Unit Study on Internet Safety
If you decide to teach your children what you have learned, be sure to count
it as covering an important "school" subject--you just did a Unit
study on Safety!
Real time dangers, such as inappropriate books, games and movies, can also
affect our kids. Check out reviews and consider the worldview of movies
before you watch them. Here are some sites: