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How to protect your kids online


As summer winds down and kids go back to school, there are several concerns on parents' minds, such as making sure their child does well in class and behaves. These are important, but too often a threat lurks on the Internet that parents overlook. Kids come home from school and log on to the Internet to play games and talk to their friends. This is a time when parents should be on full alert and talk to their children about Internet safety.

The Internet is a great tool that allows both kids and adults to easily get information and stay in touch with friends. However, there are dangers online — cyberbullies, child predators, identity theft, spam, viruses, phishing scams and concerns about privacy. Users should never download content from unknown sources or give out personal information online. Child predators and other cybercriminals are lurking on the Internet, looking to get information to use to find victims. Also, keep computers in common rooms, so you can see what your kids are doing online.

As privacy concerns mount and news reports detail stories about stolen identities, be aware of the Web sites your children visit and review their privacy policy. In fact, the fastest-growing segment of identity theft online is children under 18. With the proliferation of social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace, explain to your children the impact that revealing too much information can have on their reputation and their future.

Products such as Google Earth now have map programs that contain aerial views of streets and houses. It has been reported that people are using Google Earth to identify homes that have pools, and using social networking sites to coordinate late-night pool parties — unbeknownst to the homeowners. Be mindful that tools exist that can give anyone information about you and your children. If you are concerned about your home appearing on these sites, you can contact the company and ask to be removed.

A relatively new online threat is cyberbullying — repeated, unwanted or cruel behavior against someone through computers, cell phones, gaming consoles or other Internet-enabled means. Unlike physical bullying, in which the victim can often walk away, the Internet is always "on," opening the door for 24-hour harassment. Cyberbullies can be anonymous. They never have to confront their victims. They don't have to be physically stronger. And cyberbullies can be virtually invisible to parents and adults.

Warning signs that your child might be the victim of cyberbullying can include depression, lack of interest in school and friends, a drop in grades and subtle comments that something might be wrong. If your child is the victim of cyberbullying, take action immediately.

Proactively, parents can encourage children and their friends to look out for each other. Cyberbullies are less likely to target those whom they perceive will be supported. Get help from technology also. By filtering or blocking e-mail, instant messages and text messages, you can cut off many of the ways the cyberbullies contact your child. If harassment continues, change your child's e-mail address, user names and Internet account.

If these steps do not stop the cyberbullying, contact the parents of the child who is behind the bullying, contact the school, and if the situation is not resolved, involve the police. Tell your kids not to respond to the bully.

It's also critical that parents look for signs that your child might be the cyberbully. If they sign onto the Internet under someone else's name, use someone else's password without their permission, post rude or mean things about someone else online, or change their profile in order to embarrass or frighten someone, they could be a cyberbully.

Beyond our children, it's important to take basic precautions online to protect yourself and your computer — use anti-virus software, make sure your firewall is activated, use passwords to protect information and change them regularly.

Organizations such as and the Federal Trade Commission — — have good resources online.

By understanding both the benefits and the risks of Internet use, families can have a safer and more secure online experience.

As kids go back to school, it's important to equip them with the latest knowledge in how to protect their privacy online, avoid cyberbullies and not be a victim of cybercriminals.y working together and following basic tips, kids can have a productive and safe new school year.



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