Keep Your Kids Safe Online

In today’s digital age, it’s highly unlikely you can tell the kids they can’t have a computer. But even if so, they’ll likely use them at school or friends’ houses. So how can you keep them safe?

Reported incidents of sexual exploitation of children grew to 223,374 in 2010, nearly twice the reported number in 2009, according to national hotline CyberTipline. The ever-increasing use of technology amongst minors is credited to the increase, giving potential offenders more opportunities to interact with children.

Here are ways to keep your children safe online, from John Shehan, executive director of the Exploited Child Division of the National Association of Missing & Exploited Children.

No 1: Use online privacy settings. If your child is on Facebook or any other social media site, Shehan said it is key to make sure they are keeping their own information private and using security settings as best they can.

No. 2: Make sure they know their ‘friends.’ Having a thousand ‘friends’ online may be a symbol of popularity to kids and teens, but Shehan said it is a great way for predators to gain contact to new targets.

“Keep track of who your kids are friending to make sure it’s not just them friending the world,” he said.

No. 3: Understand the technology you are buying. Today, it is not uncommon for children to be more tech- savvy than their own parents, Shehan said. Parents need to not only buy the devices, but also get to know the phones, computers and programs their children are living by.

“Parents need to become familiar with the Internet and the technology that connects to [it] like smartphones,” he said. “Sexting and texting.”

No. 4: Talk to them about posting photos. If your child is posting inappropriate images online, or sexting graphic images to others, there can be legal ramifications. Also, this makes such images easier for predators to get their hands on.

“Sexting or posting images with smartphones or cameras—an individual with an interest in children will post this elsewhere, and then it’s hard to get them down,” he said.

No. 5: Talk to them about worst case scenarios. Shehan said kids are aware of how to respond to an emergency from the time they are talking, but few know what to do if things go awry on the Web.

“We spend a lot of time as parents talking about calling 911 in an emergency, but what if the Internet is the emergency?” he said. “Prepare yourself to have these conversations with your teens and children, in case things get out of hand.”