By Drs. Sally Robinson and Keith Bly

The Internet can be a valuable resource for both adults and children, but there are potential dangers for children that must be considered. A child may come across material that is sexual, hateful, violent or otherwise inappropriate. In addition, some Web sites ask visitors to enter personal information. Parents should not allow their children to enter personal information without first reviewing the site's privacy policy, which Web sites are required to provide to visitors if they ask for personal information.

Here are some basic Internet guidelines for you and your child:

1. Make online rules for your child and post them near the computer. Also, monitor your child’s Internet activity and visit the sites where he or she goes.
2. Tell your child never to give out personal information, such as last name, address, telephone number, parents’ work address or telephone number, or the name or location of his or her school without your permission.
3. Make sure your child knows that her password should be kept a secret from anyone except for you. Passwords should never be given to anyone online or even to friends.
4. Tell your child never to agree to meet with anyone he has met online.
5. Do not allow your child to send photos of himself to people over the Internet without checking with you first.
6. Tell your child not to respond to any messages that make her feel uncomfortable in any way. Tell your child that she should let you know immediately if she receives an email or chat message that makes her feel uncomfortable.
7. Tell your child not to accept any gifts or offering of gifts from someone online. Compare gifts from people online to those offered by strangers and make sure your child knows that just because he thinks he knows someone that he met online, he does not.
8. Make sure that your child knows that name calling, cursing or other unacceptable language should not be used when talking online.
9. Tell your child that she should always ask you before downloading anything or before filling out an online guestbook.
10. Tell your child that if he accidentally comes across an adults-only site online, he should leave the site immediately and tell you what happened.
11. Do not allow your child to chat unless she goes to a site that you approve of — there are child-safe sites where children can chat, but there is always the possibility that an adult may be posing as a child on these sites.
12. Have your child show you what he does online and keep the computer that he uses in an open place where you can monitor his activity.
13. Consider using filtering or monitoring software on your computer that can allow access only to sites that you approve.

If you suspect your child is a victim of online stalking or if your child has received any inappropriate communications online, contact your local law enforcement or visit the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s Web site at NCMEC works with law enforcement agencies and reports tips concerning potential online predators to them. The site is also a resource for online safety tips.
Dr. Sally Robinson is a pediatrician in the division of children’s special services at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. She teaches medical students about caring for children with chronic medical conditions. Dr. Keith Bly is a hospitalist and assistant professor of pediatrics at UTMB.

The Your Health column is written by health and medical experts at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. The column focuses on topical health issues that we believe are of interest to your readers. It is e-mailed every Tuesday. If you have any questions about the column, or would like to suggest topics, please contact John Koloen, media relations specialist, at (409) 772-8790 or email