Do you know your daughter's name? Do you know how old she is?

Emily? Olivia? Sara? It seems like such an easy question. And of course you know their age. But the truth, on the Internet, can be elusive.

As the father of three teenage daughters, I certainly though I knew my daughter's names and ages. So you can imagine my surprise when I discovered that my youngest daughter was actually named "sexyblonde18," that's as in sexyblonde18@xyz.com. (And no, she won't be eighteen for a while.)

The Internet has opened up an exciting new world of information and resources that were unknown when many parents were growing up. There are countless web sites that can help your children's education, providing them with access to resources that expand their minds.

But the Internet is a reflection of our world, both the good and the bad. At the same time that letting your son or daughter loose on the internet is like taking them to the Smithsonian Museum, it is also like letting them lose in the world's largest porno shop, or like letting them wander alone in the Times Square of New York's 1960's. It can be dangerous.

How can you enable your children to take advantage of everything the Internet has to offer, and yet still protect them from the dangers that lie in wait for them? Especially when you can't possibly be present when they're out there clicking -- in fact, you might not even be home! While there are no fool proof solutions, there are some simple steps that you can take to give yourself peace of mind and minimize the risks.

  • Get a list of recommended sites from your school
  • Do a little surfing yourself, both on your own and with your child.
  • Talk to them about what they've seen and where they've gone. (Be alert for evasiveness.)
  • Ask to see their myspace.com or other personal web sites. (Insist.)
  • Discuss openly with your children the dangers, especially of meeting new people off line.
  • Insist that first meetings, if any, take place at your home

Remember that there are two kinds of risks: exposure to offensive material, and physical threats that result from moving from the online world to the real world. While offensive materials, including such things as pornography and emotional bullying, are very real, it is the real world dangers that are the most serious.

That means that there's no substitute for the millennia old rules of good parenting: talk to your children (especially your teens), meet their friends, know where they're going and what they're doing. The Internet is largely a cornucopia of wonders and delights that every child should explore. A few precautionary steps will give you the protection and peace of mind that you want.

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