Is your kid safe online?A generation ago, the idea of cyber safety didn't even exist. Now, it's more important than ever. Joining Away We Grow host Diane Mizota is Pattie Fitzgerald, founder of Safely Ever After, to talk about how to keep kids safe online.
Kids are starting to use computers and phones early on these days, and parents may wonder what sites are appropriate for what age. Fitzgerald notes that most social media sites have age guidelines in place. "Do your research, find the age-appropriate games and websites, and use the most private settings," she says.
Related: The best Internet browsers for kids
If your children are using social media, Fitzgerald offers a few key tips for keeping them safe:
• Friend your children.
• Know your children's passwords.
• Set up the rules ahead of time.
• Do not let your children accept friends unless they know the other person in the real world.
• Do not allow chat rooms, especially when kids are young.
Related: Internet safety at home
In addition, your children need to be very mindful of the personal information being shared online. Remind your kids that this means more than just their name, address, and phone number. "If you play soccer every Saturday at a specific park, that's personal information," says Fitzgerald.
For kids and teens to create a safe online identity, they should also be careful about their choice of screen name. For example, says Fitzgerald, a screen name like "Katie15NYC" is a poor choice because it shares the child's name, age, and location.
Parents also need to watch for online predators and their typical behavior, including a trick that Fitzgerald refers to as "I'm just like you." She explains that with this approach, "Whatever your child says, the predator says, 'Oh yes, me too.'" Many predators begin with this casual lowering of the child's defenses, she says.
If you think your child might be the target of unwanted attention, watch for some key warning signs. Fitzgerald says, "If my child starts to disengage from the real world, and all of a sudden her online life is more important, that's a child who is more vulnerable." She adds, "If you see gifts arriving, that could mean there's some kind of interaction." Fitzgerald also says to pay attention if kids start talking about websites or chat rooms that don't sound quite right.
If children or teens encounter suspicious behavior online, they should tell a parent immediately, says Fitzgerald. "And parents should not overreact," she adds. "If it is really dangerous or illegal, it should be going right away to law enforcement."
Finally, says Fitzgerald, talk to your kids, and don't shut them off from technology. "It's their world. It's what they know. It's here to stay."
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