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Internet Safety | Parents can help Protect their Children Online.
Internet Safety

  • Kids online… should mean:   “Parents on alert!”
  • An overwhelming majority of teens chat online to people they have never met before. Teens are often willing to meet strangers, and offer personal information (names, address, school, and picture) which a predator can use.
  • Strangers may be reading your daughter’s blog and cyber-stalking your son.

  • U.S. Teens Online daily Usage:
92% of teens go online daily
24% “almost constantly”
56% several times a day
12% once a day
Only 60% of parents have checked their teens’ social media profiles.   (“Teen Tech Secrets," by Wired magazine contributor Mary H.K. Choi, "Like. Ghost. Flirt," CBS This Morning, August 25, 2016) 

What Parents Can Do

Protect your Children Online
  • Most parents have no clue what kids are doing online.  One developmentally delayed boy is highly skilled with technology.  Kids are now capable of using virtual reality technology, and can create any sex act they want online, virtually participating in it themselves. 

  • Networking online isn't just a game; it's a necessity for the majority of teens and tweens. But parents worry their children don't fully grasp the ramifications of posting personal information online.
  • 7 things you need to know to keep kids safe online  (By Dr. Michele Borba)

    The Internet poses unique parenting challenges. Fortunately, there are clues that help us monitor our cyber-kids. These seven tips will help you know what to look and listen for – and  keep them safer online.

    1. Tell kids you will be online and in charge

    Explain to kids that you are responsible for their safety and well-being, and what they post online represents your family.

    What research says:  When kids know their parents are monitoring their actions (online and off), they are less likely to engage in risky behavior.  Studies also find that those parents who set clear Internet rules are more likely to have kids who adhere to them.

    What parents can do: Tell your kids that you will be monitoring their online behavior.  Just don’t tell when you will monitor, and how often.  Monitoring factors and stealth power depends on your child’s age, social group, maturity and past record of responsibility. 

    Tip: Use the “Walk By” rule:  Emphasize that if at any time you walk by and see your child covering the screen, switching screens, closing programs, quickly turning off the computer, or not adhering to your family rules, pull the plug. End of argument.

    2. Learn kid Internet slang

    Recognize that kids have their own lingo and abbreviations to warn friends that parents are in the room.

    What research says:  95% of parents don’t know common chat terms that kids use to warn friends that their parents are in the room.

    What parents can do:  Learn and watch for slang abbreviations. Here are a few key terms:

    P911:  Mom or Dad in room
    PA:     Parent alert
    POS:  Parents over shoulder
    PIR:    Parent in room
    PAW:  Parents are watching
    1,2,3,4,5 (Typing the numerals 1 to 5): Parent reading the screen

    Learn how high schoolers actually use social media.  Different generations use emoji's differently.  For a guide to the 2016 teen Emoji’s interpretations, see
    (“Teen Tech Secrets," by Wired magazine contributor Mary H.K. Choi, "Like. Ghost. Flirt," CBS This Morning, August 25, 2016) 

    3.  Be where your kids are online

    You can’t monitor what you’re locked out of, so insist that you know all your kids’ accounts and passwords, and then set up accounts for yourself as well.  Your teen needs to know you are watching (which is monitoring not spying!).

    What research says:  A teen survey found 56% of teens on Facebook gave parents full profile access; but 58% of parents don’t have their own profiles on Facebook.

    A 2016 survey of teenagers and parents finds that 60% of teen internet users have created online accounts that their folks don't know about. That's more than twice the percentage of parents who suspect their teens have secret accounts.

    Many teens have “secret accounts.”  Within their private accounts, they may have additional or extra-private accounts with friends.   (“Teen Tech Secrets," by Wired magazine contributor Mary H.K. Choi, "Like. Ghost. Flirt," CBS This Morning, August 25, 2016)

    What parents can do:  Get accounts for all social networking sites your child frequents. If your kids are on Twitter, you need to be; if your kids have an email account, you must; if they have a Facebook page, so do you.  Tell your teen to tell her friends -- and their parents -- that you are monitoring.  (You’d be surprised how many teens and their parents appreciate that monitoring!)

    Befriend each other. Ask your teen to allow you to become a friend on his or her account. Ask him to help create your page. (Hint: Do not post on your teen’s account without permission, which can be a big turn-off, and do not set up a page without your teen’s approval -- another big turnoff).

    4. Keep computers/phones/tablets in public spaces of your home   

    You can’t monitor your child’s online activities in places you can’t see.  Keep your computer in public places you can supervise such as the kitchen, family room, or living room and remove Internet access from the bedroom.  You can restrict Web access by calling your carrier and ask how to block Internet access during key times you can’t supervise.

    - A child can sit in a room where the family has gathered, and no one will know the child is looking at pornography. 

    What research says:  More than a quarter of teens say they have Internet access in their bedroom where parents cannot monitor and they say they continue to receive texts after lights out.

    What parents can do:  Set up a “Collect and Drop” space. Remove Internet access from your child’s bedroom.  Have your kids and teen drop cell phones, keyboards, iPads or laptops in a designated basket or on the kitchen counter each night -- out of the bedroom.  Periodically review personal posts, texts, or emails. Just read enough so your teen knows you are checking.  Watch your child’s reaction when you say: “It’s time to check.”

    5. Check your child's virtual world

    Find out your child’s “virtual persona” (which can be an eye-opener!) to ensure the page, avatar, email name and photos depict respect and may not later be something “regrettable” that could damage his or her reputation, job prospects or even college acceptance. 

    What research says:  38% of parents have never seen their teen’s online profile

    What parents can do:  Ask your child (and friends) if they have a Web page and watch their reaction. Stuttering, stammering, changing subject are warning signs.  Do ask your child to explain her choices (whether positive or negative it’s a fabulous opportunity to find out about your child’s identity).  Check your child’s email address and profile periodically together to assure that it connotes respect.  If not, suggest it be changed or removed.

    Google your kids. “Google” your child’s name often, as well as setting alerts for your child’s contact information. The alerts will email you when any of the searched items are recognized and acts like an early warning system to spot ways your child’s personal information may be exposed to strangers online. At least once a month open up files that your kids have downloaded. At least once a week check the history of sites your child has frequented.

    6. Know signs of cyber-bullying  

    If your child is cyber-bullied, he may not tell you due to shame or embarrassment.  So know what behaviors to watch for that could indicate online safety issues.

    What the research says:  49% of kids say they’ve been bullied at least once or twice during the school term, but only 32% of their parents believed them.

    What parents can do:  Watch for signs that your child may not feel safe online or is possibly engaging in inappropriate online behavior.  Red flags include: child spends longer hours online and seems tense about it; suspicious phone calls, e-mails, and plain wrapped packages arrive at your home; your credit card statement lists suspicious purchases; child stops typing, covers the screen, hits delete, shuts down the computer when he knows you’re close; child suddenly stops using cell phone or email, web, social networking devices; child withdraws from friends or wants to avoid school; child is suddenly sullen or shows a marked change in personality or behavior.

    7. Start early and keep talking about Internet safety

    The crux of safety is communication, so if there is a problem -- online or off -- your child will be more likely to talk to you about it.  Today’s kids prefer texting over talking, which can cut into parent-kid communication: 11- to 14-year-olds now spend an average of 73 minutes a day texting; older teens texting habits are closer to two hours.

    What the research says:  A national study found that the harder kids think it is to talk to their parents about online issues, the greater the disagreement over technology, rules and online monitoring.

    What parents can do:  Use the 5-to-1 listening to talk ratio: Talk one minute and listen for five.  Don’t just text: talk.  And set up unplugged family zones (kitchen and dining room) to enhance family communication.

    Fifty years of child development research shows while there are no guarantees, the best way to reduce risky kid behavior is to strengthen our relationships with our kids.  Parents are their kids’ best firewall, so use your influence by monitoring your child both online and off.

    (Source:  Dr. Michele Borba is a TODAY contributor and author of "The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries." Follow her on twitter @micheleborba.  http://today.msnbc.msn.com/)

  • 5 more ways to protect your child online.   Cybersecurity expert Parry Aftab, who is also the executive director of http://wiredsafety.org, explains five things your child needs to know to keep safe on sites like Myspace and Facebook.
1)  Find Your Teen’s Profile.  Simply ask your kids if they have a profile, because you want to make sure they are safe.  You are entitled to know and the best way to find out is by asking your kids.  You want to see them all, not just one (and let them know the consequences of lying).    Giving them a day to clean up their profile will allow them to cleanse it if they have information or pictures posted that tell too much about themselves.  

2)  Tailor the Profile to Fit Needs.  You need to understand why your child has a profile. Once you know why your child is on the site, you can make sure they are only giving the information they need to.  Ask why they have it?   Knowing why your child is interacting online will help you guide them and make sure they're not taking unnecessary risks.   If it's to communicate with kids from camp, then there's no need for them to post information about where they live, or anything that a predator could use to find them.  Their friends already know what they look like and where they live.  If it's to advertise a band or a cause, then your children may have to give out more information, but they can keep the information specific to their goals.

3) Follow the 4 Ps.   Don't let your child post anything publicly that parents, principals, predators or the police should not see.  Remember—what you post on the Internet stays there forever. Let your children know that it may affect whether they get into college or get a job.  Make sure your children use the most restrictive privacy settings available on the social networking site where they have a personal profile.

Parents should view their children’s MySpace.com and Facebook.com accounts.   Online accounts are not an appropriate place for a child or teenager to have interactions with people they do not completely know and trust.  These accounts should be private, open only to trusted friends.  If accounts are unrestricted, predators will have access to the teens’ personal information.

Both MySpace and Facebook allow your children to restrict access to their profiles to friends only. However, you also have to make sure no one slips in the back door. Anyone can request that your child make him/her a friend.  Only allow your kids to have their real-life friends as Internet buddies — the people you know about.

The only exception would be if your child is trying to advertise a band or an event. Then he or she will need to let everyone see it. But your child doesn't need to give personal information out.  Make sure what is put out isn't anything you don't want a stranger to know.

Chat rooms also have risks.  One expert said going into chat rooms is a little like going to a party where sexual predators, criminals and disrespectful people will be mixed in with the wholesome, clean-cut people.  The biggest difference is that at the chat room party everyone looks the same—it is hard to recognize the foxes.  

4)  Do Online Snooping.  Snoop on your children—parents are allowed to do that.  Follow the trail of cyber breadcrumbs.  Look at their profiles regularly, and click on their friends' profiles.  You want to see both what your child and her friends are saying. Often, it's your child's friends who are posting pictures of them that shouldn't be online, or giving details about their lives that could make them vulnerable.  

Also, click on the links your child is following.  You want to know what they're looking at so you can stop them if they're going to dangerous sites.  You also need to make sure your kids aren't hiding a profile.

5)  If your kids are 13 years old or younger, they should NOT have access to Myspace or Facebook at all.  These sites are illegal for children that age, and it's just too dangerous to let them go on.  

As an alternative, kids can join http://clubpenguin.com, which is a part of the Walt Disney Company, the parent company of ABC News, or http://webkinz.com, which are social sites for children. Parents can also block younger kids from other sites with a good parental control program like McAfee

Additional Resources
  • Remember - there are a lot of new tools for monitoring teen activity, but almost all of them have workarounds or drawbacks.  Some families do not allow their children to have internet enabled phones, which are too much of a temptation, because there are too many workarounds that other youth will describe and detail.

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  • Connect Safely.  By parents, for parents: A growing collection of short, clearly written guidebooks that demystify apps, services and platforms popular with kids and teens. Research-based safety tips, parents’ guidebooks, advice, news and commentary on all aspects of tech use and policy. ConnectSafely helps users get the most from their technology while managing the risks and help decision makers craft sensible policies that encourage both innovation and responsible use. In PDF format.  A great resource for parents and schools.  http://www.connectsafely.org/

    It’s important to remember that there are thousands of apps that teens use and new ones popping up all the time. What’s most important is to help your kids develop critical thinking skills so that no matter what services they use (online or off), they think about what they’re doing and how they’re treating others, take care to protect their privacy and security, and keep an eye out for inappropriate behavior, scams and things that may not be what they seem. Just about everything we use, from kitchen stoves to bicycles to smartphones to social media apps, have some risks, but risks should and can be managed.
    Guides for Parents and Educators:  http://www.connectsafely.org/guides-2/

  • Bark.  Bark helps parents navigate the digital world, and analyze their children's social media activity and text messages for signs of cyber-bullying, sexting, depression and suicide.  
    “Our goal is actually to give the child more privacy, and the way we do that is by not giving parents full, unfettered access to all of their children’s messages.” 

    Bark, named after man’s best friend, alerts parents if anything suspicious is found.  “We show them everything that’s potentially problematic,” Bason said.  “And our view there is that we want to correlate responsible usage and when everything is going well, with increased privacy for the child.”

    The program recognizes a growing list of text slang.  “One of the most concerning ones is KMS or KYS. It stands for kill myself, kill yourself,” Bark Chief Parent Officer Titania Jordan said.  “If your child is sending or receiving a message like that, you need to know and step in.” Jordan said this year alone, they’ve been able to help more than 15 families address issues and potentially save a life.

    According to a recent study, 28% of teens tell their parents when an online situation bothers them.  But, some kids who want parents to be involved worry that adults will overreact to any problems. (study by CSCW, Computer-Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing)

    “Our best advice for parents
    is to be as nonjudgmental and non-lecture-y as possible.  Please, please do not freak out. Because again, keeping an open and honest line of communication with them, because it is an ongoing issue, will help to thwart it.”

    Bark uses a machine learning-based algorithm to detect the issues. “The advantage of that is it uses context, so even if text slang changes or things change, we’re able to understand that based on the context of the conversation.”  Jordan recommends parents sign up for Bark “the second your child can access the internet.” The service costs $9 per month, or $99 per year, and supports both Apple and Android products.     (Source:  “Bark helps parents monitor kids’ online activity but preserve some privacy,” Bark CEWO Brian Bason and Chief Parent Officer Titania Jordan, CBS News, March 15, 2017) 

  • Mobicip - Safe, secure customized Internet for mobile devices (iPhone, Android, tablets)

  • OpenDNS.  Some parents rely heavily on OpenDNS, a free wifi filtering service — it redirects all internet activity on your wifi signal to a different Domain Naming Service (DNS) that can be filtered based on your preferences. It works through your router. It filters everything from gaming, gambling, pornography, and lingerie sites to cheating, dating, video sharing, social media, etc.  It has robust options to customize to each family’s preferences. It is a baseline tool, and every family needs some sort of filtering support. It also disables the capabilities of browsers to support “private browsing,” if you select that option. You can see every website that is visited from any device that is using that signal. It is a free service.

  • YouTube Filter