Keep Your Kids Cyber Safe

Can you imagine letting your child socialize with a sex predator? If a bully was picking on them, would you ignore it? Would you allow your child to play violent video games?

Most parents would vote with a resounding “No!” to these questions.

Why then do so many parents allow their children to go online with little or no supervision? Experts say some parents turn a blind eye when it comes to their children being online.

“Parents need to make rules about using the Internet. They need to decide how many hours a day and when their children can be online, what sites they’re allowed to visit, who their friends are on Facebook,” said John Woodring, a technology teacher at Bluffton Middle school who specializes in electronic media. “Parents need to have frank discussions with their kids and set guidelines.”

There are many dangers in the cyber-world, including bullying on social network sites, chat rooms with strangers, violent online games and more.

For more safe websites, click here.

 

At Bluffton Middle School, “we’re teaching students how to be safe online, that if they’re not, their safety could be compromised,” said Woodring,

Cyber-bullying is the No. 1 threat, he said. It’s a mainstay on social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and Myspace.

“Cyber-bullying happens more than most people know,” he said. “We encourage the kids to speak up about it so that we can deal with it. Children need to tell a responsible adult if this is happening to them.

“It has a huge emotional impact on kids. For them, the world has turned against them,” he said.

The troubles with cell phones.

What’s a parent to do?

A recent study by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children showed that more than half of parents have talked to their kids about Internet use and safety, and less than half kept an eye on their children’s activities while online.

Even more surprising is that more than half of the kids surveyed said they don’t need permission from their parents to go online and there were no restrictions on how much time they could be on the Internet.

What can you do?

Experts give these tips:

  • Don’t let your child have a computer in their bedroom. Place the computer in an open room with the monitor facing out. This allows you to quickly see what is occurring on the Internet.
  • Don’t allow a webcam to be used unsupervised. A webcam makes it very easy for your children to post pictures of themselves. Remember, once that picture is posted, it is broadcasted to millions.
  • Make sure your children do not give out any personal information online. Websites or other online services may ask children for information in order to enter special contests or to obtain free gifts. Other websites won't allow access unless the user gives them personal information. However, once personal information is given, it is important that your children understand that their privacy can be compromised. Their names could end up on a sales database, or worse, the information could be used to harm or exploit them.
  • Set up hours and guidelines for your children’s web usage.
  • Bookmark child-friendly websites. This allows your children to easily get to safe sites that they have used before.
  • Monitor any chat rooms.
  • Never allow your children to meet with someone from an online session.
  • Woodring said the best thing that parents can do is to use common sense. “Keep your eyes open and engage your kids,” he said.

Cell phones and ‘sexting’

As if dealing with online behavior isn’t demanding enough, parents also have to deal with cell phone usage, which can be difficult to monitor.

Many teens nowadays are using their cell phones for “sexting,” which means they are sending sexual messages or nude or semi-nude pictures to other teens.

“Kids, mostly girls, will send an email or text of herself without understanding the consequences,” said John Woodring, a technology teacher at Bluffton Middle school. It’s not only dangerous behavior, it can also create legal concerns.

In Rochester, N.Y., for instance, a 16-year-old boy is facing up to seven years in prison for forwarding a nude photo of a 15-year-old girlfriend to his friends, according to an ABC News story.

Sexting can also lead to even more extreme and tragic circumstances. According to www.cyberbullying.us, Ohioan Jesse Logan, 18, had an ex-boyfriend who sent nude pictures of her to a large number of their high school peers, leading to extensive verbal cruelty. Two months later, she committed suicide. Hope Witsell was 13 when she sent a topless picture of herself to a boy she liked. The image quickly found its way onto the phones of other students. Her journals indicated the vicious name-calling she endured for weeks before it became too much for her to handle. She too committed suicide.

What can a parent do? First, make sure to watch out for any signs of changes in behavior, such as mood swings and changes in appetite. Keep the lines of communication open and make sure to discuss “sexting” with your child.

Online games

Here are some safe sites for fun games for young children:

PBS, www.pbs.org:

This site has several games that involve parents and children playing together.

Berit's Best Sites for Children, www.beritsbest.com.

Great Sites, www.ala.org/parentspage/greatsites:

This American Library Association site has more than 700 "amazing, spectacular, mysterious, wonderful websites for kids and the adults who care about them."

Making Friends, www.makingfriends.com:

Teaches kids how to make hundreds of different kinds of crafts.

PBS Kids, http://pbskids.org:

Fun, games and cool links with Arthur, Barney, Sesame Street, Teletubbies, Zoom and more.

Seussville, www.randomhouse.com/seussville:

"The Cat in the Hat,” “Sam-I-Am,” “Horton and the Whos,” and the rest of the Seuss characters on Dr. Seuss's playground in cyberspace.

Yahooligans!, www.yahooligans.com:

A directory of links to social studies, science, cultural, games, sports and other links for kids.