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The Secrets to Raising a Smarter Child
- By Inderbir Sandhu, Ph.D


Tips to Keeping Children Safe Online

By Sharon Housley

There was once a time when you only had to worry about children when they were outside or not at home. Those times have changed. Strangers can now enter your home, without a key or coming through a door. How you may ask? These strangers enter your home using a keyboard. These strangers can befriend your children online.

Social networking has become increasingly popular and websites like Myspace have thrived with adolescents and teens. While pedophiles may be the minority on these sites, the threat of having a pedophile enter your home, under the guise of being someone their not, is just too big of a threat to ignore.

It may seem harmless enough, at first glance. I mean, what do other web surfers really know about your child? They might even live half a world away. How could they possibly harm your child? Perhaps you might even see the educational value of your child interacting with individuals from other cultures and understanding the global nature of today's world, but consider this...

Children online don't feel that these "friends" are strangers. They "chat" with them daily. These people, who parents consider strangers, are their friends. They understand what the child is going through and they listen in ways the parents never seem to. The recent riveting testimony of a young boy that was drawn into online pornography at the age of 13, should be a wake up call to all parents. Computers and the Internet can be far more dangerous than most parents ever imagine. The likelihood of a child online will encounter strangers is far higher than a stranger wandering into their backyard.

Parents warn their children about strangers as they grow up, perhaps its time to redefine the term stranger. Consider the following to protect your child, adolescent, or teenager while online.

1. Webcams

Do not allow your children to use a webcam unsupervised. Children will often forget that the webcams are there or even worse, what may seem harmless online flirting might result in unwarranted or undesired attention from an anonymous predator. Additionally, webcams have been tied to home robberies where burglars viewed items of interest through a webcam. A little online digging resulted in the home address, and items were then stolen.

2. Common Area

In spite of an adolescents or a teenagers need for privacy, it is best to keep the computer in a family common area. It might be helpful to explain to your child why it is important that computers be out in the open. Children should understand that using a computer is not a right, is a privilege. Parents can and should supervise online activity.

3. Personal Information

Personal information is just that, personal, and should not be shared by children. As easy as that is to say, sometimes children are often confused as to what constitutes personal information. Educating children about what personal information is, is just as important as educating them as telling them not to share. Children need to understand that just because someone asks for personal information doesn't mean you have to tell them.

What is personal information? Knowing not to share your location, name, age, address, phone number, town, password, and schedule might seem obvious to children, but what many don't realize is that predators will often piece together various bits of information. A predator will aggregate data to determine a child's location or true identity. Predators are able to use IP tracking and the location of an online web provider that you use might assist them in narrowing down a location. Information related to sports events or scheduled concerts will further allow a predator to ascertain a child's location and personal information.

Provide adolescents and teenagers these tips in determining what information is appropriate or inappropriate to share. Tell them to ask themselves how the predator can use the requested information? Is it necessary for them to have that information? Why?

4. Crossing the Bounds

It is easy to explain to a child that a stranger is someone they don't know in the real world, but online the definition becomes blurred. Is a friend of a friend online, a stranger? If you have communicated X number of times with someone, are they still a stranger? Assist your children in drawing lines about who is appropriate to communicate with, and who is not.

5. Candor

When talking to children about surfing online, it is important to be honest with them. Children have to understand the dangers, but should not live in fear. Balancing candor and fear might be tricky, but you know your child best and keeping it real will help them navigate and how to stay safe online.

6. Trust

Trust online is a funny thing, just because someone says something is true does not mean that it is. Bloggers and online wikis are dealing with credibility issues, yet individuals are often trusted until proven untrustworthy.

7. Identifying Information

Instruct your child NEVER to share any identifying information that includes phone numbers and addresses. And finally ,consider how non-anonymous the web really is .

8. Photos

Children should not swap photos online. Exchanging photos is unnecessary and puts children at a higher level of risk. Additionally digital photographs can easily be edited by a third party. An explicit online photo can haunt a child for a lifetime.

9. Profiles

Children should not complete profiles in blogging software or social networks, like MySpace The profiles or hobbies can often raise the interest of unwanted admirers.

10. Questionnaires/ Surveys

Children should not complete questionnaires or surveys online. The information requested may appear harmless, but you do not know how the information will be used, it is good practice to avoid completing any questionnaires or surveys.

11. Meeting

It of course goes without saying that children should not meet any individual that they converse with online.

12. Chat Rooms

Chat rooms are playgrounds for sexual predators. The chat room owners have no method to detect a lurking predator from a child. As a result it is just a good practice to restrict access to chat rooms.

13. Instant Messaging

Adolescents and teenagers often want to communicate, whether on the phone or via the Internet. Instant messaging is a popular phenomenon for children. If you allow your child to communicate using instant messaging, be sure to block instant messaging from anyone unknown. Additionally, spot check their buddy list to make sure that it has not been altered. Use a tool like AOL where restrictions can be implemented.

14. Online Games

Often online games, will contain a chat component. The same rules that apply to instant messaging should apply to the online games and chatting. Rarely are filters available for the online games and many children will encounter strangers who evolve into friends through online play. Be leery and weary.

The Internet is global and not governed by any single entity. There are no limitations. By creating clear boundaries for your children they will be able to take advantage of this amazing vehicle without putting themselves at risk.

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Sharon Housley manages marketing for FeedForAll software for creating, editing, publishing RSS feeds and podcasts. In addition Sharon manages marketing for NotePage a wireless text messaging software company.

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