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Keeping kids safe online: What every parent should know

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Updated: 8/24/2012 11:57 am
(ARA) - By now, most parents are aware that the entertainment and educational value of the Internet also comes with risks, particularly for children. Protecting children from those risks is a vital concern for any parent whose child uses the web and any web-enabled device. Online child safety measures should encompass steps that protect children from a variety of threats - including damage to a child's reputation, contact from predators, spamming, bullying, and risks of identity theft. Here are some common online risks and what parents should know about how to protect their children: Online reputation As soon as children become active online they need to understand that what they say and share on the Internet "lives forever." With a growing number of employers, colleges and universities including social media outlets in the background check process, teenagers' online activity could potentially impact their ability to be admitted into their college of choice and even their later job prospects. Protecting a child's online reputation can be a complex task. Consider parental help sites like SafetyWeb.com. The online tool provides targeted monitoring and customizable utilities to help parents track their children's presence in cyber space. The tool filters mobile phone and Internet activity for both positive and risky behavior, provides parents with timely alerts, and allows parents to see accounts, photos, friends, tweets, posts, texts and calls through one convenient online dashboard. Online predators The FBI notes that online predators often target children. Some invest a great deal of time, effort and even money into winning a child's trust, while others engage in immediate inappropriate behaviors and conversations with children. To minimize the risk of children falling victim to sexual predators, the FBI advises parents to make sure their children know to never: * Arrange a face-to-face meeting with someone they met online. * Share pictures of themselves with people they don't personally know. * Provide identifying information like their name, address, school name or phone numbers. * Download pictures from someone they don't know. * Respond to inappropriate online communication. * Believe that everything they're told online is true. Email abuse As soon as children learn they can communicate with others via email, they'll want their own email accounts. As soon as they have an email account, they can become victims of spamming, junk mail, hijacking and malware. To minimize the risks of your child's email being abused, take these precautions: * Teach children to not open emails, links, posts or online advertisements from someone they don't know. * Teach children to be wary of emails with attachments, even if they come from an email address they think they recognize. * Show kids how to create and use strong passwords. * Make sure your antivirus and security software is always up to date and active on computers and other mobile devices. Cyberbullying Cyberbullying is an assault on a child's online reputation and self-esteem, often by other children. The National Crime Prevention Association (NCPA) defines it as the use of the Internet, cell phones or other electronic devices to "send or post text or images intended to hurt or embarrass another person." The organization says cyberbullying affects as many as half of all American teens. NCPA says children can help prevent cyberbullying by refusing to participate in it, speaking out against it when they see it occurring, blocking communication with cyberbullies, and reporting instances to adults they trust. Parents can also help by: * Developing rules for their children about cyberbullying and making sure the kids understand the rules. * Raising awareness of the issue within the community. * Sharing anti-cyberbullying messages and measures with friends. Identity theft A 2009-2012 Carnegie Melon CyLab study of more than 42,000 children younger than 18 found that more than 10 percent had someone else using their Social Security numbers. The youngest victim was just 5 months old. To reduce the risk of children falling victim to identity thieves, parents should protect minors' Social Security numbers. Never carry your child's Social Security card, and if a company, school or medical provider requests it, ask why it's needed and if you can provide some alternate form of identification. Teach children the importance of this valuable number and to never share it unless truly called for.
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