A number of terrific responses were posted by family lawyers who participate on the State Bar of Michigan Family Law Listserv in response to my article about children and Internet safety. These experienced lawyers each had some good advice about safety measures parents can take. Here's a sampling:
From Jeffrey Zoeller, who practices in East Lansing:
Jeanne has identified a great resource here: http://www.wiredsafety.org/internet101/blogs.html (and explore the rest of the site).
Kids today communicate in ways that most of us do not even know (except maybe the techies on the listserv). They send text messages from their cell phones, they instant message on the internet, they webcam their movies, they diary their personal lives on the internet for all to see.
Parents must ask themselves who they will let into their house, into their child’s bedroom, without supervision and without protection from the parents.
Would you let a middle-aged guy you have never met before, who knocked on your door, come into your house and talk privately with your child?
That is exactly what you are doing if you let your child have an internet connected computer outside of your supervision.
Jeanne said “I can’t tell you how many times in this past year my clients have expressed concern about their children’s Internet usage and their frustration with a co-parent’s refusal or inability to monitor the children for safety concerns.” I have heard the same concerns.
This is 12 factor stuff nowadays. Parents have always had to protect their children from the effects of changing technology.
More than 50 percent of teens on MySpace have posted pictures of themselves online. http://housegop.state.il.us/issues/
Some percentage of those teens have sold webcam movies of themselves by doing naughty webcam shows and then getting paid through PayPal.
One client of mine had a teenaged daughter who made more from her internet webcam shows than her mother made from her legitimate job.
Let the internet into your family unsupervised and you will have trouble later.
Do not let your children, even teenagers, have private methods of communication with the whole world.
Do not let them have an internet connected computer in their own bedroom away from your parental supervision.
Very truly yours,
Jeffrey Zoeller (P46943)
Witzel & Zoeller Lawyers PC
321 Woodland Pass, Suite 300
East Lansing, MI 48823
From Bill MacNeil, who practices in Kalamazoo:
Thank you very much for your comments about the internet. I believe that the web is still the wild west and there will be more and more of these stories involving teenagers. I handle criminal defense cases as well and I have had several teenagers who have been charged with crimes due to their activities on the internet, and 20/20 just ran a story about a teenager who was charged with child porn when it was really infected files that stored the pornography for the actual pedophile. In addition, I had a 16 year old charged as an adult for having sex with a 12 year old and he faced life in prison. The 12 year old girl had posted graphic pictures and comments on her MySpace page that were used to show consent which reduced the charges significantly and kept him off the public sex offenders list….both sets of parents were devastated and the 12 year old’s parents had no idea that she had multiple partners until they took her to the hospital for a rape assessment. She reported him because he broke up with her.
Bottom line.. parents need to control the family computer and unfortunately have to become educated on security and hackers and infected files whether they like it or not. There are also great monitoring devices for the children’s use of the internet and Barron Henley gave a great seminar on this at the Solo and Small Firm Institute. I believe that Jeffrey is right that more and more this is becoming a factor in custody disputes if one parent is allowing unsupervised access to the internet combined with a lack of supervision outside of the home.
From John Ceci, who practices in Howell, Michigan:
I have heard a number of positive things said about a program called SafeEyes.
In my view, parents are CRAZY to allow their children unfiltered and unlimited Internet access. Of course, in a divorce situation, you can’t make the other parent do what you do…but you certainly can protect your home environment as best as possible.
That’s my two cents.
John R. Ceci
John Ceci PLLC
211 E. Grand River Ave., Ste. 103
Howell, MI 48843
To read Jeanne Hannah's earlier article about children and Internet safety click here.