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Protect Yourself, Your Kids, and Your Computer!

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 (NHERI)
http://www.nheri.org/

Reality Check



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 scouts.

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 strangers.

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 - United Mothers.

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 polite!

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 few examples:
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

Strategies


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?"

Safety Tips


Bob Jones University Press, Home School Helper suggests the following Internet safety tips:

1. "Provide adult supervision whenever possible," (When is it not possible?)

2. "Use "can lists" and "can't lists" to limit access,"

3. "Be aware of the dangers of newsgroups, chat groups, and indexing services,"

4. "Survey materials about Internet safety available on the Internet itself."

Yellodyno
http://www.yellodyno.com/
WebWhacker captures and downloads selected Internet content to users' computer hard drives, enabling them to view and present Web sites off-line at highly accelerated speeds.
http://www.ffg.com/whacker/whackernews.html
Lynn Coleman's excellent homeschooling site contains Internet safety information, as well as other resources
http://member.aol.com/putco/LC-art1.htm
Kid Safety: Internet and otherwise. A complete Unit Study! http://www.uoknor.edu/oupd/kidsafe/kidmenu.htm Safe Surfing Home Page
http://www.mindspring.com/~safesurf/safesurf.html Yahoo's List of Filtering and Blocking Software http://www.yahoo.com/Business_and_Economy/ Companies/Computers/Software/Internet/Blocking_and_Filtering/
Download all your software filtering and monitoring programs, and try them for free (also check your Internet provider's software page
http://worldvillage.com/wv/school/html/control.htm

Safe Surf's Tips, also Parent/Child Agreement http://www.safesurf.com/lifegard.htm
Kids and Parents: Information on safety (mostly school related), and also fun links http://www.respress.com/kids_parents/
Computer Safety Fun Kit, "Free" (plus $1.99 postage) http://www.surplusdirect.com/ wwcgi.dll?ROV0Q7UJ1~Displayspecial~UT2141~S~4
Web Track
http://www.webster.com/
Internet Access Management Software Reviews http://www.mindspring.com/~safesurf/filters.html

Internet Addiction


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 human hand.

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.

Resources

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?

Jon's Homeschool Resources will help you find support groups http://www.midnightbeach.com/hs/Web_Pages.res.f.html

Mary Pride's site contains a list of Homeschooling support groups, international http://www.home-school.com/

Homeschoolers of Color (includes Canadian and other support group links) http://www3.sympatico.ca/cher/

B: Getting mugged in cyberspace

Protect Your Computer from viruses, javascript worries, spam, and browser bugs


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 Internet.

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!

Resources

Excite's List of Anti-Virus protection sites and software http://www.excite.com/search.gw?trace=1&search=antivirus
Symantec also now offers a free trial of Norton Antivirus. http://www.symantec.com/avcenter/

2. E-mail: Word macro viruses, javascript worries, browser bugs and other 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 at http://www.news.com/News/Item/0%2C4%2C13998%2 C00.html?nd

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 protection tool."
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. Example:

"Reply to: yourname@NOSPAMyourserviceprovider.net

To reply remove NOSPAM from the address above."

Just say No to spam!

The above tip is from Greg, Barefoot Hikers of Central Ohio, http://users1.ee.net/gmorgan/

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 over):

Dying kids wanting e-mail, and other long-dead hoaxes such as http://www.cancer.org/chain.html
I object to hoaxes, because they rob caring people of time and energy which could be more productively spent on legitimate causes.
"
Internet Chain letter Hoaxes and CIAC Virus Database: Check here before circulating information on viruses
http://urbanlegends.miningco.com/library/weekly/aa091497.htm Symantec also has a virus hoax page that is very good. http://www.symantec.com/avcenter/hoax.html

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.

1. Internet

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 run disks.

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:

http://www.focusonyourchild.com/entertain/art1/A0000244.html  , Focus on the Family guidelines on video games.

http://www.almenconi.com/topics/games/ , Christian video game reviews

http://www.christianitytoday.com/movies/ , Christianity Today’s movie reviews.

Rotten Tomatoes , gaming reviews.

http://www.hollywoodjesus.com , secular reviews.

http://www.pluggedinonline.com .

George Washington’s “Rules of Civility” applies today; read an expanded version of his Rules:

http://www.fullbooks.com/George-Washington-s-Rules-of-Civility.html

You've worked hard; how about a reward? ("A merry heart does good like a medicine..." Proverbs 17:22) If your fingers aren't too tired, you may enjoy:
http://cyberjester.home.ml.org/disc.html
NetAholics Jokes http://www.earthplaza.com/netaholics/net1.html

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Portions of this material are excerpted from

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Homeschooling on a Shoestring


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Copyright (c) 1997 Melissa L. Morgan. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction or redistribution without prior written consent prohibited.

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