The Real Dangers to Kids Online and How to Avoid Them: Top 5 Internet Safety Tips

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The Real Dangers to Kids Online and How to Avoid Them

Did you know

– 1 out of 5 kids has been sexually solicited online

-1 out of 4 kids has been sent a picture of naked people or people having sex online
-that May 21, 2002 there was the first death of a child linked directly to an Internet Predator?

Parents’ biggest concern about the Internet used to be pornography, but there is definitely a greater fear today.

You have probably taught your child not to talk to strangers, and in many situations, they would remember this. But the Internet is different.

Due to the Internet’s anonymity, strangers are talking to children all the time. They try to gain the child’s trust by having friendly conversation at first, but over time, their true objective of sexually soliciting the child becomes evident. Children and parents alike are unaware of this, yet this is exactly what is going on via the Internet.

What can today’s parent do? Armed with information, there’s quite a bit a parent can do.

Software4Parents.com’s Top 5 Internet Safety Tips

1. Tell your child to NEVER EVER reveal their name, address, phone number or any other personal information to ANYONE online. Once you give out this information, it is impossible to retract.

2. Communicate regularly (not just once) with your child about WHAT they do online and WHO they talk to online. If you have actually met the friends they are talking to in person, you’ll know it is OK for them to chat with them online.

3. Take computers out of kids’ rooms and put them into public areas such as the family room. Many parents think they are helping with homework by giving the kids a computer, but it also opens certain dangers that you may be unaware of.

4. Choose your child’s screen name, email address or instant message name wisely – don’t’ reveal ages, sex, hobbies, and CERTAINLY NOT suggestive or sexy names. Predators are more likely to pursue a child with the screen name “sexyteen5″ than “happygirl5″

5. Use technology to help you protect your child. Monitoring software gives you the ability to review your child’s Internet usage. Even if you don’t look at each and every email or instant message they send, you’ll have a good idea if they are making smart choices online.

The Child Online Safety Battle Is Mostly Psychological, Not Physical

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The most popular advice I’ve heard about ensuring children’s safety while online is to “be right there with them while they are online.”

Right on its heels is the adage that “you should move the computer to the living-room and make sure your kids don’t surf the Internet in their bedrooms or in another room away from you.”

“If this is not a possibility, then make sure you are often in and out of the room to keep an eye on what is going on. Be sure you know what your kids are doing online at all times,” one web site said.

This sounds like solid advice, if impractical for me and other parents I know. It doesn’t help the parent whose child is likely surfing the Internet on a laptop or joins mobile phone- based social networking platforms.

It also doesn’t take into consideration the fact that you may have bought your child a laptop or phone for a number of valid reasons, and the child would have the right to use it without asking for permission first. Or that you’re a single parent, work crazy hours and don’t have the luxury to watch your children every time they use the Internet.

Another disturbing fact that I learnt while researching online safety was that “most children who agree to meet face to face with an adult do so willingly, they are not tricked or coerced [What you don’t know can hurt your child, the North Carolina attorney general’s Internet safety report].

This made me realise that the key to protecting your children and ensuring their safety while online is to make sure they don’t want to engage in risky behaviour.

Once again, that sounds nice, but every parent knows that is easier said than done. It requires good old fashioned communication, that very difficult aspect of parenting that requires sustained time and effort. You only know for certain it’s not working when there’s trouble.

Safeguarding your child requires that your child maintain healthy relationships with family and friends, so she doesn’t have to look far for approval. And it requires parents and child carers to know what their kids are up to, on a regular basis, so when there is a problem, it gets fixed long before the child has the chance to look to a potential predator for help.

I’m sure you know how difficult that is when you have to deal with life’s regular stresses including maintaining a demanding job (or two). Comforting yourself with the fact that you are monitoring your child’s Internet activity starts to look good, because it gives you the assurance that you’re doing something concrete.

But here’s what I learnt: online predators use a number of psychological tools to lure your child. He makes your child look at her world and exaggerates the discontent. He draws a wedge between the child and her family and friends. “They don’t understand you,” he tells her. “But I do.”

So your child grows increasingly distant from her support system and more drawn towards the predator’s approval. No amount of policing Internet use can cure that.

But, as Anastasia Goodstein, author of Totally Wired has shown with her research, the majority of kids who go online are not in danger of being lured/abducted by sex abusers and rapists. Most kids are media and safety-savvy, and statistically speaking, they are more in danger of being kidnapped by someone they know than they are by a stranger. But even if it’s just one child who is in danger, it is one child too many.

So as parents, we each have to make sure that our children join the web/safety savvy group that is not vulnerable to predators’ lures. These are the kids who take precautions and know not to give out personal details or publish too many photos providing strangers with insight as who they are and where they live.

They terminate conversations when propositioned by strangers, and they know the difference between an online buddy and a friend.

And if they find themselves in potentially dangerous situations, they tell their parents/another adult/talk it over with friends and remove themselves from contact with the suspect individual. But more than anything else, these kids don’t need their Internet activities to be policed, because they see predators for who they are and are not likely to fall for the lures.

So, what are you doing to proof your child against online predators?

Damaria Senne is a journalist and author based in Johannesburg, South Africa. She writes about the telecommunications industry in South Africa and Africa, including cellular, mobile and wireless technologies and messaging news and trends.

Damaria is also an author and would like to write books that inform, educate, empower and entertain for parents and children.

Online Safety for Teens With Intellectual Disabilities

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It used to be that students with intellectual disabilities had very little, if any, access to computers in schools, let alone to the Internet. But as classes become more integrated, especially students with mild intellectual disabilities are finding themselves exposed to a world that offers them a tremendous amount of opportunity – and, as it has with young people without disabilities, new hazards that educators and parents must consider.

Social Media: A Whole New World for Youth with Intellectual Disabilities

As a person who’s worked with youth with intellectual disabilities, I’ve long had concerns about social networking sites when it comes to the people I support. I’ve worked with youth with mild intellectual disabilities who have profiles on sites like Facebook and MySpace, and some of them manage it quite well: they know what information to make public and not to make public, they know all the people on their “friends list”, and they’ve had someone look at their profile and make sure that their security settings are such that only authorized people can see what they post. More often, however, I’ve been dismayed by what I’ve seen when I searched for (and easily found) their profiles on Facebook (I can’t really talk about MySpace, as I’ve never used it, but I’d imagine that the situation isn’t much different there). For most youth that ended up on Facebook, I could see what they and others had written on their “wall” without being a “friend”, indicating lax security settings. Some included personal information such as phone numbers on their profiles. Often they will make someone a “friend” without knowing who the person is in “real life.” Additionally, Facebook, as a general social force, causes no end of trouble, because this demographic doesn’t generally have:

The discernment skills to be able to determine, “I should not be ‘friending’ this person or talking to them, because something isn’t quite ‘right’ here.”
Sufficient knowledge and skills to get out of a situation that they can’t handle when their discernment skills let them down.

Strategy and Preparation

Please don’t take that to mean that I don’t believe there’s a place for people with intellectual disabilities on Facebook. I think that all social media applications present a marvelous opportunity for people with all sorts of disabilities to network, further their education, and make new friends. But safety has to be considered. I’m of the parenting school that believes that it’s okay to insist that you have your teen’s Facebook password, whether they have disabilities or not, up until age 18. If I was the parent of a teen with an intellectual disability, I’d prefer that he or she agree to let me have their password longer than that, but I don’t feel that I can’t force them to keep me “in the loop” on passwords once they reach that age of adulthood. You, as a parent, may feel differently, and will have to negotiate with adult children with disabilities about whether you will have access to their passwords. However, if you have a minor child with an intellectual disability in your life who wants to be involved with Facebook, please do the following for their sake:

If he’s in school, get in touch with his teachers. Find out what he’s learning about the Internet and websites like Facebook. Is he being taught about Internet safety? Is it being taught once and then the class moves on? Be aware that information this important needs repetition and reminders. What kind of Internet services are the students signing up for in computer classes (email, social media accounts, educational websites)? Are the students blocked from accessing any services from school?

Talk to your teen. Why does she want a Facebook account? Does she know what it means to use it responsibly?

If you don’t feel comfortable having your teen’s password, does he know that he should come to you or another adult he trusts if he comes across a situation that he can’t handle?

Does your teen know about the Facebook features that she can use to deal with conflict with others?

You should be having these conversations with *all* your children. Social media can really broaden horizons, but you’ll want to teach your kids to not take unnecessary risks and how to recognize and deal with potentially dangerous situations. However, teens with intellectual disabilities are going to need, even more so than teens without disabilities, simple explanations and demonstrations, repetition, practice and some supervision for a while to see that they’re using online safety skills effectively. It’s worth the time and effort to be sure that your teen with a disability remains safe online and gets all the benefits possible from participation on social media websites.


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