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Keeping Yourself and Your Family Safe Online


Everyone talks about protecting children online. The media loves cases of Internet sexual predators and high profile risks. But what about protecting yourself and the rest of your family? The rules and tips that keep your children safer online keep the whole family safer online too. It’s easier than you think.


Before we start talking about the risks, let’s talk about the benefits. The Internet holds more books than the largest libraries in the world. It’s open 24/7 and speaks all languages. Most of the sites and online content is free. And the rest is pretty affordable. You used to have to research questions for weeks. Now you can search multiple sites in minutes. You can keep any eye out for new sales, something related to your favorite hobby, and sports scores. You can support a cause or keep in touch with your high schoolClassmates. The list goes on and on.


Try exploring with your children. Have them show you their favorite sites, try playing a game or two online with them or explore new sites that you will all enjoy. Find a cooking site and experiment with some recipes they would enjoy. Or plan a trip and research the place you would like to visit.


Start with something you enjoy and follow the cyberbreadcrumbs to explore a bit. (Just make sure you use a good antivirus, spyware blocker and firewall.) Research your family tree or plan anadventure. You can begin with Google and use the filtered settings to block most of the junk. Or look fora s ite you like or an article you trust and click away from there.

If you find a site you like, bookmark it so you can revisit it and recommend it to your friends and family.


Mobile and Handhelds

Adults use their mobile phones to make calls, sometimes send text messages or pictures or send emails. Most of the other features go unused by most of us. Frankly, we have no idea what those features are half the time. Why not check out some of those features? Visit the mobile manufacturer’s website  and see what you can learn, or hand it over to one of your children to show you.

Everyone has an iPod or other digital music player. Some just play music, while others can store or stream your favorite TV show or videos. And you can visit and download podcasts and videocasts that interest you, find your favorite music from high school, or convert your CDs (or vinyls) to digital versions and enjoy them on the go.


Your children use these handhelds all the time, almost as often as their teen counterparts use their cell phones. They store pictures, videos, games and music on them. They also often store contact information and their schedules. Unfortunately, these photo-capable devices are sometimes used to take embarrassing pictures of others, or sexual or nude ones of themselves as they get a little older.


Teens have identified 87 different ways a cell phone can be used to cyberbully others. From placing prank calls, to sending thousands of tormenting text messages, to reprogramming it to call 911 whenever they speed-dial Mom, to posing as them to torment their friends, accessing private information and intimate images, the list goes on and on.

Intimate images taken when they are bored, infatuated or under the influence are becoming more common. These are typically called “sexting”and is when a preteen or teen takes a nude or sexual picture or video of themselves and share it with their boyfriend, girlfriend or anyone who is interested.


Far too many teens and a surprising number of preteens are engaged in taking these pictures, sharing them with others or storing them on handheld devices, cell phones, gaming devices or their computer.


When teens and preteens are hanging out in groups, they frequently get into trouble with their cell phones. They take photos they shouldn’t be taking. They place prank calls. And often send text messages that shouldn’t be sent. They use the cell phones to bypass traditional computer filters.


Some parents have come up with a simple solution to these risks. Have your children’s friends (and your child) park their cell phones with you while at a party in your home. Give them back when they leave and let them use your house line to call anyone they need.


Cell phones are now providing them with more power in their backpacks, pockets and purses than most big corporate computers could provide a few years ago. It’s an area where we are seeing abusive and risky behavior very often. Ask your children to show you their own cell phones and mobile devices. Make it a surprise spot check. Then scroll through the pictures and videos they store. (Check their cloud storage accounts too!)


The Filter Between Their Ears

Tried and trusted safety tips about keeping their computers in a public place are long out of date. Now, they have to rely on the filter between their ears and exercise good judgment and care wherever they are connecting or using technology. It’s our job as parents to upload our values and common sense to those filters on a regular basis. We can no longer watch everything they do or say online. Like taking off the training wheels on their first boike, we have to ready them for surfing and apping with a light touch by us. When they are younger, filtering software can be helpful. But they soon out-grow it and the focus needs to become safer and reliable sites, apps and games and teaching them when to come to you for help and how to identify and report abuses.
For Parents: Risks for Kids and Teens by Age:

If your children are 8 or under:

Here are some basic guidelines to get started on setting rules for children under 8 years of age to follow when online. Think of these as a “cheat sheet.” Most of the children under 6 are not yet interactive (with the exception of virtual worlds, videos, educational games, YouTube and DS).


They are not yet using messaging, e-mail, text or chat technologies (to their parents' knowledge), without parental supervision or their heavy use of parental controls. This is changing, though, with many younger kids using interactive sites for preteens.

We advise that parents carefully supervise their kids’ use of these sites until they are old enough to understand risks online unless the sites have a safe site or other trusted seal of approval. If your kids are more interactive, use the tips for the next older group below.


8 to 10 Years:

Most are beginning to use interactive technologies, such as messaging, texts and cell phones, and the more precocious may also be trying to use social networking/profile sites, such as Instagram or Facebook, by lying about their age.

Cyberbullying starts to expand at this age. Cell phones are becoming more common in this age group, as are all gaming devices, handheld and laptops. Spyware is typically a real problem at this age too, as they begin to download things and use game cheat and code sites, usually rampant with spyware.


Kiddie hackers start their tricks often during these early years. (And they may include your child or one of his friends.) Keep intruders out with a firewall. And passwords, as with all ages, are the root of all cyber-evil. Choose one that is easy to remember, but hard to guess and is different for each site.


Older Preteens (11 – 12 year olds)

Most in this age range are now using interactive technologies and many have cell phones at this age. All are playing interactive games, some on handheld gaming devices or desktop devices, some on their cell phones or iPods, some on their PCs and some online. Parental controls become trickier with they reach 11 or 12, because they tend to over-block the sites they want and need. The settings become complicated and the fit is rarely right.


They are also entering the prime of their cyberbullying life. Social networks/profile sites are a growing problem at this age. This is the age range is when the trouble usually begins. They want to be “older” and do what they think teens do. That means they are taking risks by the truckload. Sexting (when they send sexually provocative or nude pictures of themselves to others) starts at 12 with some girls. They often lie about their ages on social networks too to get past the age rules.


Early Teens (13 - 15 Years)

Social networks such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Tumblr and to a lesser degree, Twitter, along with texting and gaming consume their time and lives. (YouTube is vastly the most popular of these, with more than 78% of teens polled having an account on YouTube.) Parental controls are not effective at this age. Gaming devices and handhelds are being used by most of the younger male teens and they can access the Internet from their palm-tops and gaming devices, often without parents knowing. Risky behaviors and the attraction of 15 megabytes of fame cause many of the younger teens to act out, either because they don’t have the tech safety skills or the judgment to act otherwise.


They are vulnerable, impulsive and often in need of attention, affection and approval. This is when the risk of meeting and inappropriate communications with strangers are the biggest problem. The 13 year olds are at the greatest risk, and most serious cases of sexual exploitation by adult online occur at this age.


They want to act and be seen as older and more mature and are often flattered by the attention of adult men. (Note we are now seeing female Internet sexual predators exploiting young teen boys they meet on interactive game sites.) Luckily, the younger teens tend to fear sexual exploitation and tend to avoid offline meetings. If the young teen is at-risk, they are particularly at-risk to adult predation.


Sex tends to be a big draw at this age. Cyberbullying turns into sexual harassment at this age too. Most cyberbullying-related suicides involve 13-14 year olds, more often than other age groups. It’s a tough time for them. Be understanding and remember back to when we were that age. Technology magnifies these risks, so teach them to exercise care and use good judgment.


Teens 16 Years and Older:

Their offline reputations and future can be easily impacted by what they do and post online. College recruiters, coaches, scholarship committees, employers and sources of recommendations, as well as their high school administrators, can be watching. Texting, Instagramming and social networks rule their existence, along with gaming devices (more for boys than girls in this age, as tween and young teen female gamers move on to other interests).


The risk of Internet sexual predators and everyday cyberbullying decreases, while online sexual harassment attacks, sexting and sextortion (blackmail involving the threat to expose intimate images) increase when romantic interests get involved. The teens, interestingly, spend more time with focused online activities or offline activities and spend less time texting and more calling on cell phones than they had in previous years. Chatlingo and emoticons are out too. (“OMG” and “LOL” are examples of chatlingo.) They may use shortened forms of words when texting or messaging, but they leave chatlingo and emoticons behind them. “They are sooo middle school,” they claim.


Sexting becomes more common at this age, when they are often sexually active and when asked, will share a nude picture with someone they “love” and trust. And this often moves off of cell phones to webcams and other digital imaging devices to share in other ways.


Colleges, jobs, scholarships, awards, team selections and rankings are all more important than ever at this age. (And, yes, colleges are looking.)What they post online stays online forever, in one form or another. All bets are off here. If they aren't ready by 16, they will never be ready. It's time to take off the training wheels and be around with the first aid kit when they take the inevitable spill. Good luck! You'll need it.


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