How to Keep Your Kids Safe in the Age of MySpace

6/11/2007

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In an age where it is commonplace for kids to know more about technology and the Internet than their parents, do you know how and where your children spend their time in cyberspace?

In a report entitled Online Victimization of Youth: Five Years Later, researchers found that approximately one in seven youth (10 to 17-years-old) received a sexual solicitation or approach over the Internet. With kids using the Internet at school, with friends, and at home, it is important for parents to be aware of what their children are doing online, what the risks include, and what you can do to keep them safe.

Social networking groups like MySpace, Facebook, and Friendster can be a great forum for teenagers to express themselves and make friends that might have common interests. However, such groups can also be dangerous if young people get involved with predators. Many of these Web sites allow users to create profiles with contact information, pictures, and journals. Child abductors and other criminals may use such Web sites to lure kids into meeting in-person by lying about their age and interests.

While MySpace, Facebook, and Friendster cater to teens, other sites advertise themselves as offering chat for “Kids.” Don’t be taken in by the name. They often do not screen for age and allow adults, pretending to be children, to participate.

Make sure to not only check on the names of the sites used by your children, but to visit the sites and use them. Remember, if a site allows your child to post information such as an e-mail address, a full name, or a street address, your child can be contacted by anyone who sees that post online.

If your child is under 13 years of age, a site that allows posting without prior parental permission, is probably in violation of the Guidelines of the Children’s Advertising Review Unit (“CARU”) and of Federal law. If you have any question or complaints regarding Web sites used by your children, contact CARU at www.caru.org.

Sharing music or other files, when done unlawfully through programs like Limewire, BitTorrent, or Gnutella, can lead to serious legal issues and the loss of any personal information that may be stored on your computer. When files are shared, it is possible that you are opening your personal computer up to anyone who wants your personal information and spreading harmful viruses without your knowledge.

The first, and maybe the most important, step towards prevention is to talk to your children. At an early age, sit down with your kids to visit fun and educational Web sites together and teach them how the Internet can be a useful tool.

Once they start to gain a little more independence, you may consider purchasing filters for your computer that you can use to set restrictions. Some filters can monitor or restrict specific Web sites, certain content, or the use of any personal information. If you would like to know more about how to keep your kids safe online check out the following Web sites:

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