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It's back to school time! For many families, that means hectic schedules and maybe more computer access and time online for young people.
There are plenty of risks online, including inappropriate content, cyberbullying, Internet predators, hackers, scammers and others. Decisions on computer usage vary by family and child. However, every parent can take some steps to help their children be safe online.
Security analyst Jean Taggart of ParetoLogic's Spyware Analysis Team (SWAT) said parental involvement regarding online safety is important. He suggested monitoring computer usage when possible and placing the family computer in a visible place. As well, he recommends parents sitting down with their kids at a computer and demonstrating safe surfing practices.
"You can't really beat some quality 'parent/kid' time to show them how to be safe online," Taggart said.
Here are 10 more tips and pieces of advice to consider for helping your children stay safe online:
- Educate yourself: It is important to know what is happening online. Know where your kids are going and what they are doing. Having open communication is a key. Also, the Websafe section of the SafeSurfer.org website has a wealth of information on family online safety. This includes suggestions for children of various ages. ParetoLogic's Block Watch blog focuses on issues facing families online and offers a variety of topics to think about.
- Set guidelines: Some families make formal contracts. You can check out some examples at SafeSurfer.org's Websafe. This might not appeal to your family, however you might consider having some basic rules. For example, are the kids allowed to download music? Can they play games online and, if so, what kinds? Can they have accounts for social networking sites, such as Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and Bebo?
- Restate the obvious identity rules: It might sound like information they already know, but say it again! In general, young people should not post photos online, give out their names, addresses, phone numbers, schools, banking information or other similar data that could be used by online predators or criminals. Never go meet someone you only know from being online. Do not give out your password.
- Tell them to come to you: Let them know that if they see anything online they need to tell you about. This can be whether they "accidentally" saw inappropriate content (which would be registered on the browser history), received a request from a stranger or felt threatened by a bully. When they bring this to your attention, try to stay calm and determine the best course of action together.
- Warn them about online fraud and malware: Thirty-one per cent of the reported victims of identity theft are young people, according to the United States' Federal Trade Commission. You can remind them not to click on links in emails and social networking messages from friends, to remember to log off accounts and, once again, to not share passwords and log-in information. Being careful where they click will also help prevent your computer from being infected with viruses and malware.
- Consider installing parental controls software: Programs such as the free PGsurfer can be useful in various ways. You can set parameters for which kinds of sites your children can view. As well, you can control how much time they spend on the computer each week. PGsurfer lets you setup individual, age-appropriate profiles to help all of your offspring.
- Monitor your credit cards: This is a good idea anyway! It is also a way to keep track of any online purchases have been made or if your VISA or MasterCard are being used to access pay-to-use online games or adult sites.
- Be aware of cyberbullying: There are two sides to bullying. We generally focus on the victim. This means looking out for such early signs as behavioral changes, trouble sleeping, and closing computer windows when you enter the room (For a longer list, check out SafeSurfer.org's Websafe. It is also important to speak to your children about how to treat people online and in life to try to discourage cyberbullying.
- Ask them to check first: Websites have varying privacy policies, especially when it applies to young people under the age of 13. It is best that you read these over first before your kids sign up. It is important that your child does not think that when they ask you, you will automatically say they can't use that site. Maybe they could be on there if they follow certain parameters or perhaps you could encourage them to use a similar site.
- Tell them not to believe everything they read: If it is online, some kids might believe it is the truth. Tell them that this is not always the case. Blogs, Facebook rumours and gossip websites are not exactly known for their journalistic integrity.
In today's online world, young people are destined to use computers and surf the web. By taking some precautions and trying to guide your children online, you can help them do so safely.
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