Wednesday, July 29, 2009

How to Keep Kids Out of Cyber-Trouble: Top Tips for 6 Problem Areas

/PRNewswire/ -- Every day, it seems, the news carries another cyber-horror story. Last week, five Internet predators in Pennsylvania were arrested for sexually propositioning undercover agents in a chat room, in several cases sending nude webcam videos of themselves to agents they believed were 13- and 14-year-old girls. On the same day, a truck driver in England pleaded guilty to seven counts of rape after admitting forming relationships with two girls on the Internet before sexually assaulting them.

For parents, the first line of defense against Internet dangers is to have frank and ongoing discussions about online stranger-danger, the need to keep personal information private, and the potential consequences of inappropriate online behavior. A revealing photo sent on a cellphone or posted on a social network site, for example, can live on in cyberspace for years with damaging effects on everything from personal relationships to job prospects. And a flirtatious online conversation can literally turn deadly.

Beyond the need for parent-child communication on the subject of cyber-risks, InternetSafety.com

recommends a variety of strategies that parents can use to help keep their children safe. Here are some basic tips for six common activities:

-- Sexting - The increasingly common practice of sending sexually
suggestive text messages, photos or videos through cell phones is a
big worry. It can invite public humiliation, cyberbullying or even
sexual assault. Teenagers are even being charged with child
pornography for sending or posting racy photos. One way to limit
children's sexting opportunities is to retrieve their cellphones at
night and charge them in the parents' room. Phones today are simply
small computers, and they should be regulated in the same way as those
larger machines.
-- Social Networking - Rule #1 is that children should never post
anything they wouldn't be comfortable showing to their parents,
teacher, or youth worker. One way to discourage inappropriate entries
is to join the social networks that your kids are on and 'friend' your
own children so that you can monitor what they're posting.
-- Chatting - Chat rooms are not only nesting places for predators, but
they often indirectly encourage rude and even abusive interactions
between users due to the anonymity and lack of consequences. If your
child is using chat rooms, find out which ones and check them out for
yourself. If you are uncomfortable with specific chat sites, you might
consider using filtering software to block access to those sites or
log all chats for later review.
-- Gaming - Increasingly popular MMOGs (Massive Multiplayer Online Games)
like Final Fantasy and World of Warcraft are massively addictive, with
reports of non-stop sessions as long as 48 or 72 hours. To prevent the
unhealthy practice of spending more time in a virtual world than a
real one, parents should either refuse to buy these games or impose
time limits. (The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more
than two hours of screen time per day per child 12 and under.) If the
child breaks the rules, simply uninstall the game from the computer or
confiscate the disc.
-- Searching - On most popular search engines including Google, the
safe-search settings aren't completely effective and are easy to turn
off. For that reason, younger children should not have a computer in
their room, and their computer use should be supervised. Filtering
software can also protect both younger and older children from
exposure to websites with adult, violent or other inappropriate
content.
-- File-Sharing - Peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing networks such as
BitTorrent, uTorrent, Bearshare and Limewire allow totally unregulated
access to files that other network members have shared, including
illegal pirated material and child pornography, not to mention opening
computers to security risks. Banning these programs in your home is a
good idea. Check your family computer periodically to be sure that no
one has downloaded any of them, and remove them if they have.

More tips as well as tools to safeguard children against cyber-dangers can be found at www.internetsafety.com .

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