Monday, February 01, 2010

Cyber Safety for Kids of All Ages

With the first decade of the 21st century now a thing of the past, historians can look back on the last 10 years and begin reflecting on the decade's most memorable moments.

Historians can also begin looking at what changed in the last 10 years, and which trends made the biggest impact. Perhaps nothing made a greater impact than the Internet. Though prevalent at the end of the 20th century, the Internet became even more so during the first decade of the 21st century, changing nearly every facet of society along the way.

While the Internet made things easier in many ways, it's made things more difficult in more subtle ways as well. Take, for example, kids and the Internet. While computers were once a place for kids to play games and write papers for school, nowadays the household computer is a means to reaching a whole new world, one that isn't always so safe for kids. That reality highlights the importance parents must place on safeguarding their kids from the ills of the Internet. Fortunately, there are several steps parents can take to keep kids of all ages safe from whatever or whoever might be lurking online.

* Establish a list of Web sites that are on and off limits. Parents must talk to kids about the nature of the Internet, and how some Web sites are geared toward adults and some are more kid-friendly. When having this discussion, ask kids why they might go online, and from there parents and children can begin to establish a list of Web sites that are acceptable, and those that are off limits. Parents can even safeguard access to Web sites outside the realm of what they've deemed acceptable by establishing passwords to get on certain sites.

* Don't share passwords and change them regularly. Nowadays, more and more sites require passwords to gain full access. E-mail accounts, social networking sites, online banking, and even online retailers require a password. Kids and adults alike should always keep these passwords secret and change them regularly. Do not use the same password for every Web site. If anything seems out of the ordinary or if you feel security might have been breached, immediately contact the Web site and change the password.

* Do not share personal information. Today's kids are growing up in an environment that's seemingly less private than ever before. Social networking Web sites have made it commonplace to share information easily and without much discretion. However, this has the potential to be very dangerous for younger and older kids alike. Younger kids could be unknowingly making themselves accessible to online predators, while older kids, even those in college, should be made aware that prospective employers have begun to visit social networking sites to research an applicant's background. The more that's shared online, the less privacy a user has. So it's best to exercise discretion whenever sharing information online.

* Do not arrange to meet anyone you have met online. Though older kids might feel they have enough wits about them to avoid falling victim to an online predator, it's precisely that attitude of invincibility that online predators count on. Younger and older kids should never meet an online acquaintance without first discussing it with their parents. Simply because someone says they're something online doesn't mean they are, and many a horror story has resulted from online predators taking advantage of trusting kids, young and old, and even adults.

* Beware of online viruses. Online safety does not just involve protecting oneself from physical harm but also financial harm. Online viruses can destroy even the most expensive computers, so it's important for computer users to exercise careful control when visiting Web sites. Oftentimes, a virus will surface through a pop-up window or spam e-mail, so it's best for adults and kids alike to avoid clicking on any pop-up windows or opening any e-mails from mailers they don't recognize.

CAPTION: Even toddlers know how to go online, a fact that only highlights the importance parents must place on cyber safety.


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