By DON O'BRIEN
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
Thanks to technology, being a parent these days isn't very easy.
In addition to all of the issues parents have had to deal with over the years, today's parents must worry about their children online. Predators can enter a home without even having to walk through the front door of the house thanks to the Internet. Cellphone usage is another possible evil lurking in today's living rooms.
With so many teens and pre-teens using things like the Internet, cellphones and online gaming systems, it's more important than ever for parents to know what's in their house.
That's the message delivered Friday by Christine Feller, Internet safety specialist with Illinois Attorney General Office's High Tech Crimes Bureau, to a group at the University of Illinois Extension Office in Quincy.
"In order to protect them, we need to understand the technology first before we give it to them," Feller said. "We need to try out the various apps because the difference between us and our children is they are going to continue to play around with technology, but we have the life experience. They will continue to try different apps and try different things until it works."
The attorney general's office encourages parents to create a digital culture in their residence. Parents need to develop household rules for usage and time limits. They need to determine the appropriate age to introduce technology into their children's lives. Parents need to review the definition of private information with their children and go over the terms of service agreements with whatever website and apps the children want to use.
Feller pointed out that while many children want to be a member of Facebook, the most popular social network on the Internet, they need to be reminded that users must be 13 before they are eligible to sign up for an account. She encourages parents to take an active part in their children's online profile. She said parents need to know who their children's Facebook friends are and who they are playing online games against.
Parents must also monitor cellphone use, Feller said. Even though the children may think that their phone is private, it really isn't. Feller pointed out that any photo or text sent is housed on their service providers' server. Parents need to know who their children are texting with and what photos may be transmitted and received on those phones.
"In my role, it's to educate mainly children but also parents as to how to use technology responsibly and smart, thinking about the short-term and long-term consequences of the things they do online," Feller said. "We're trying to educate about what we bring into our households."
Part of that education, Feller said, is to make sure parents take inventory of what their online profile -- and those of their children -- looks like. She suggested that people put there name and email address into a search engine like Google and see what turns up.
"By monitoring your name or email, it's just helping you with your online identity," she said. "It's integrating your online life and your offline life and putting it all into one and saying, ‘What is out there about me?' and ‘Is it an image of myself that I want out there?' Hopefully, we are all the same person online that we are offline, but we know some people act differently."
Fuller said that parents and children alike need to be critical thinkers when they're online. Users should ask themselves if their online activity is hurtful, rude, dangerous or harmful. Will what I'm putting online affect my future in some way?
"I think we have become very comfortable in our online life," Feller said. "It's being aware of what you're putting out there and understanding if it's personally identifiable information and thinking about what the risks are by having too much out there."