Friday, January 1, 2010

Child Internet Safety: Networking Sites

Networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, Hi5 and more are extremely popular these days – with adults and children alike. But you may not realize how dangerous these sites can be for your children. Networking sites may be the venue for cyber-bulling, cyber-stalking, child pornography, identity theft, or even scams and fraud. Just as parents want to keep their kids safe away from home with a child locator device they also want to keep them safe on the internet. The best way to keep your children safe from these dangers online is to educate yourself.

Cyber-bullying occurs whenever one person or group of people use the internet or other communication devices (like cell phones) to behave in a hostile manner toward another person or group of people. Cyber-bullying may involve threats and/or pictures and messages intended to embarrass the other party. Cyber-bullying may also involve hateful or racist words or images or even unwanted sexual images or remarks.

Cyber-stalking (sometimes called cyber-harassment) occurs when people use the internet and other communication devices to stalk someone and can cause a great deal of distress for the person being stalked.

Child Pornography involves the taking, distribution, or possession of sexually explicit images of prepubescent children. If your child is sexting (sharing naked pictures of themselves or others via their cell phone or the internet), they could unknowingly be committing the crime of distributing and possessing child pornography.

Identity Theft is basically when someone uses personal information to pretend to be someone else in order to access and steal money or other items and benefits. The internet accounts for the majority of identity theft cases today.

Scams and Fraud are running rampant on networking sites. People are creating fake “profiles” on these sites in order to lure children (and adults alike) into their scams and schemes.

The most important way you can keep your children safe online is to talk to them about their online use. Ask them what sites they like and where they “go” online. Opening the dialogue may be all you need to do with some kids. Once you’ve started the conversation, they may overflow with stories and information about their internet usage. But other children are more secretive and may feel like you’re prying. Be sure to let them know that you have their best interests in mind and are concerned for their physical and emotional welfare. Be sure to use proper internet terminology (above) when discussing the net with your children so that they know you’ve done your homework and know what you’re talking about.

Also, make sure your children know that it is never ok to meet someone from the internet IRL (in real life, that is, in person) unless you have approved of the meeting. If you do approve of your child meeting someone from online in person, make sure that you or a suitable adult chaperone is present to ensure the safety of your child.

The world of sexting and networking sites may be intimidating and scary for parents but it doesn’t have to catch you off guard. Educate yourself and your family about the dangers of the internet in order to keep them smart and safe.

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