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4 Dangers of the Internet

Protect your kids from cyberbullying and exposure to sexual predators with these Internet safety tips from the experts.

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Internet Safety Tips

Some tips from Netsmartz.org for responding to cyberbullying:

  • To keep others from using their email and Internet accounts, kids should never share Internet passwords with anyone other than parents, experts say.
  • If children are harassed or bullied through instant messaging, help them use the "block" or "ban" feature to prevent the bully from contacting them.
  • If a child keeps getting harassing emails, delete that email account and set up a new one. Remind your child to give the new email address only to family and a few trusted friends.
  • Tell your child not to respond to rude or harassing emails, messages and postings. If the cyberbullying continues, call the police. Keep a record of the emails as proof.

Internet Danger #2: Sexual Predators

The online world opens the door for trusting young people to interact with virtual strangers - even people they'd normally cross the street to avoid in real life. About 1 in 7 kids have been sexually solicited online, says John Shehan, CyberTipline program manager for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Alexandria, Virginia. The CyberTipline helps prevent sexual exploitation of children by reporting cases of kids enticed online to do sexual acts.

While sexual predators have targeted children in chat rooms, they migrate to wherever young people go online, Shehan says. More predators are now scouring social networking sites, such as MySpace and Xanga, because these sites have centralized so much information, Shehan says. A child's profile typically includes photos, personal interests and blogs.

"In terms of predators, that's obviously a hot spot where they can go to research victims," Shehan says. "They need to meet these kids, groom these children and become friends."

Predators may take on fake identities and feign interest in a child's favorite bands, TV shows, video games or hobbies. "They come across to the children as their new best friend. They're going to have the same likes and dislikes," Shehan says. "It's quite crafty what these child predators will go through."

Internet Safety Tips

  • Ask your children if they use a social networking site. Look at the site together or search for it yourself online. Social networking sites often have age limits. MySpace prohibits kids under 14 - but doesn't verify kids' ages, so anyone can use it. If you want to delete a site, work with your child to cancel the account, or contact the social networking site directly.
  • Tell your kids not to post a full name, address, phone number, school name and other personal information that could help a stranger to find them. Remind them that photos - like your child in a team sweatshirt - can give away clues to where they live. Ask them not to send photos to people they meet online.
  • Learn about privacy settings that allow kids to choose who can view their profiles. Explain that strangers who approach them online aren't always who they say they are - and that it's dangerous to meet them in real life. Tell them to "instant message" only with family or friends they already know off-line.
  • When it comes to Internet safety, there's no substitute for parental supervision. Put your computer in a common area of your home, not a child's bedroom, so you can keep an eye on online activities. Go to websites that explain the short-hand kids use in instant messaging, like "POS" ("parent over shoulder") or "LMIRL" ("let's meet in real life"), so you know what's going on.
  • Ask your kids to report any online sexual solicitation to you or another trusted adult right away. Shehan asks adults to report the event to the CyberTipline (800-843-5678), where staff will contact law enforcement agencies to investigate. He also advises parents to call their local police and save all offensive emails as evidence.

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