Kids are getting online more than ever these days, especially those who are into social networking websites such as Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace. I've seen kids as young as six or seven years old with Facebook accounts. While these websites can be fun, they can also be dangerous if they fall into the wrong hands and as a parent, it's your duty to make sure your child know the risks and how to protect themselves from harm's way.
Kids love to get online and are often more knowledgeable than their parents and teachers. That's why it's important that parents and teachers should take steps to learn about what's happening online and what their kids are involved with. Kids left to their own devices could end up in a number of troublesome situations, from dealing with a cyber-bully or a schoolmate with ill intent, to facing child predators or even con artists.
Communication is important. Talk to your kids about what they're doing online and remind them of the danger they could face and what to be on the lookout for. But there are other things to do to keep your kids safe.
1. Take advantage of parental controls. Children don't want their parents watching every move they make but many websites offers ways for parents to monitor or control their children's online activity while respecting their privacy. Talk to your kids about exactly what you plan to monitor or control and be honest with them to gain their respect.
2. Keep your computer in an area of the house where you can be there to keep an eye out, without hovering over your child's shoulder. Insist computers stay in the kitchen or living room and not in a bedroom or office, where your child can lock themselves away to get online.
3. Don't allow your children to meet random strangers whom they've met online. In the event your child absolutely has to meet someone, make sure a parents or trusted adult accompanies them. Make sure your children know the potential risks of someone not really being who they say they are.
4. Make sure you know the "code" your kids are using online. Acronyms such as "TAW" means teachers are watching and "PA" means parent alert. There are dozens of other ways kids use code to let their online friends know there is an adult around. If you see these frequently, you may want to investigate further what your child is doing.
4. Make sure your child's teacher is monitoring their online usage. Many schools have blocked certain websites but with kids' knowledge of the web, they can find other ways to get into trouble. With computers in almost every classroom these days, teachers should constantly monitor their students' use. If a student is clicking out of a window when you walk by or a group has gathered around one computer screen, chances are, your students are not doing what they should be.
5. Let your child know that they do not have to feel uncomfortable having a conversation online, just as in real life. Whether it's a friend or stranger they're talking to, make sure they know that feeling scared, trapped, threatened, or offended is not OK and it is OK to end that conversation. Talk to them about how they can end the conversation promptly and let them know they can talk to you about how they feel.
6. If you do set up a Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, or other social networking website, make sure your child is taking advantage of the privacy settings. Make sure your kids are only adding friends who aren't safe to talk to and keep an eye out for anything suspicious.
7. Make your children aware of malicious information, such as spam or virus threats. Help them understand what it means and what they should and shouldn't open or click on.
8. Google your children's names on a regular basis. Again, you don't want your child to feel like you are spying on them, but you can do this to show them just how easy it is for ANYONE to find out anything about them. If your child has a blog, a social networking site you are not aware of, or have posted any information about themselves online, it will most likely come up in a search.
9. Again, communication is key. Make sure your kids know that not everything they see online is legitimate and talk to them about incidents in the news, so they know the risks.
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