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Who’s hanging out with your kids online?

With the latest generation of  digital natives constantly plugged into gaming and virtual worlds, Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites,  and mobile technologies, parents need to get smarter about their child’s online safety. But it takes more than just staying informed on the latest gadgets, apps and technologies—parents need to be involved.

Here are some tips to help keep your family safe online:

  1. Keep computers in a central place. This will make it easier to keep an eye on your children’s activities.
  2. Know where your children go online. If you have young children, use the Internet with them. For older children, talk about what kinds of sites they like to visit and what isn’t appropriate for your family. You can check where your kids have been by looking at the history in your browser menu. Another option is to use filtering tools like Google SafeSearch.
  3. Use privacy settings and sharing controls. Many sites that feature user-generated content, including YouTube, Blogger and social networking sites, have sharing controls that put users in charge of who sees personal blogs, photos, videos, and profiles. Using sharing controls is particularly important when you or your children share personal information such as names, addresses, or phone numbers, on public sites. Teach your children to respect the privacy of friends and family by not identifying people by name in public profiles and pictures.
  4. Protect passwords. Remind your children not to give out their passwords. Make sure they make a habit of unclicking “remember me” settings on public computers such as those at school or in the library.
  5. Beware of strangers. Teach your children not to arrange in-person meetings with people they “meet” online, and not to share personal information with online strangers because people may not be who they claim to be.
  6. Help prevent viruses. Use antivirus software and update it regularly. Make sure your children avoid downloading from file-sharing websites and don’t accept files or open email attachments from unknown people.
  7. Teach your children to communicate responsibly. Take the following as a good rule of thumb: if you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, don’t text it, email it, instant message it, or post it as a comment on someone’s page.
  8. View all content critically. Just because you see it online, there’s no guarantee it’s true. Children should learn how to distinguish reliable sources from unreliable ones, and how to verify information they find online. Make sure kids understand that cutting and pasting content directly from a website may be plagiarism.

For more info: CyberSafe: Protecting and Empowering Kids in the Digital World of Texting, Gaming and Social Media (American Academy of Pediatrics, October 2010), Dr. Gwenn Schurgin O’ Keeffe.

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