Advice on safety issues from our partners

Below are some issues that we know can often be concerning to parents. We work closely with a number of child safety organizations in the US and we’ve included advice from these partners in the sections below.

Protecting your child from sexually explicit and violent material

We all know there’s just no way to shield kids from all sexually explicit content. But you can talk to them about it, and try to challenge the exaggerated notions of sex they see every day. This story and accompanying video offers age-based guidance for parents on how to talk to kids about sex and the media.

Studies tell us that kids who see a lot of violence may be more aggressive. They may even learn that hurting others is okay. They need you to help them understand violence – real and virtual. This story and accompanying video helps parents counteract violent images in the media, and offers tips for every age on how to handle it.

It’s time to stop the “circle of blame” that we perpetuate regarding inappropriate or unsafe Internet content, with media consumers blaming producers and advertisers, and producers and advertisers blaming consumers. We all share the responsibility for the culture we are creating and passing on to our children. It is also our responsibility to prepare children for safely living in the digital world we have created. To navigate, children need to learn and practice filtering and decision-making skills that are reinforced at school and at home – the core skills of media literacy. These skills of critical inquiry prepare children to make wise decisions when searching and using online resources, helping to achieve safety and security in all aspects of their lives.

With such a vast variety of information and images found online, the Internet has opened up a wide new set of topics for parents to discuss with their children. Most of us find it difficult to talk to our children about sex in general, let alone the harmful effects of pornography. Yet, it’s important to remember that even if your children are not looking for Internet pornography, chances are, they have come across harmful sexual content at some point, and it is your job to protect and guide them about their natural questions about sex. Learn more about ways to talk to your kids about pornography.

Set age-appropriate filters on your computers and your child’s mobile devices: Filters and other internet safety tools block categories of inappropriate websites a child can view, such as sites containing pornography, violence, gambling, and illegal drug information. Settings are password-protected. Remember that no filtering or monitoring software is a substitute for parental supervision, and filters may not stop a determined child from bypassing them and accessing unsuitable content.

Reducing the risk of your child meeting strangers online

Be reasonable and try to set reasonable expectations. Pulling the plug on your child’s favorite social site is like pulling the plug on his or her social life. Instead of being protective, it can shut down communication and send kids “underground” where they’re more at risk. It’s too easy for them to set up free blogs and profiles from anywhere, including friends’ houses or even a cell phone.

Talk with your kids about how they use the services. They, not news reports or even experts, are the ones to consult about their social-Web experience. Help them understand basic safety guidelines, such as protecting their privacy (including passwords), not harassing peers, never talking about sex with people they don’t know, avoiding in-person meetings with people they “meet” online, and taking care in what they post – because anything people put online can be grabbed, reworked, and used against them.

Support critical thinking and civil behavior – because no laws or parental-control software can protect better than a child’s developing good sense about safety and relationships. Research shows that kids who are aggressive and mean online toward peers or strangers are at greater risk of becoming victims themselves. So teach them to be good citizens and friends online as much as offline.

Help your kids use privacy settings to restrict who can access and post on their social networking profiles, blogs, and other accounts. Also, talk to your teens about avoiding sex talk online – research shows that teens who don’t talk about sex with strangers online are less likely to come in contact with predators.

Stopping them sharing too much personal information

In order to reap the benefits of socializing and making new friends, teens often disclose information about themselves that would typically be part of an acceptable “getting-to-know-you” process offline (name, school, personal interests, etc.). On social network sites, this kind of information is now posted online—sometimes in full public view. In some cases, this information is innocuous, but in other cases, disclosure reaches a level that is troubling. As parents, it is important to monitor the information, photos, blogs and videos your children post or send, to have conversations about privacy and personal security and remind your kids to think before they post. Read more and watch a video on social networking safety.

In a world where anything can be copied, pasted, altered and distributed in the blink of an eye to a vast invisible audience, kids must understand that they hold the key to what kind of reputation they create for themselves. This article and accompanying video helps families with some “rules of the road” as kids grow up in public.

Each time your child fills out a profile without privacy controls, comments on something, posts a video, or texts a picture of themselves to friends, they potentially reveal themselves to the world. Everything our kids do online creates digital footprints that wander and persist. This article helps families rein in their privacy.

Tell your kids why it’s important to keep some information private. Social Security numbers, street addresses, phone numbers, and family financial information – like bank account or credit card numbers – should stay in the family. It’s too much information for anyone else. Talk to your kids about phishing and help them activate privacy settings on their social networking profiles, blogs, and other accounts. For more information on these topics and to learn more about your rights as a parent under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, read Net Cetera: Chatting with Kids About Being Online.

How to help stop cyberbullying

There are always three things parents and guardians can do now to help children who are experiencing bullying of any kind:

  1. Listen

    Stop and listen when your child is being bullied. We need to take complaints seriously. It’s easy to think “bullying toughens kids up in helpful ways,” but it’s just not the case. Being bullied – and bullying others – has very serious and negative consequences, and it’s a signal that the child is in trouble.

  2. Respond

    If your child is a victim of bullying, you can offer your help and support in any number of ways. First, it is most important to report bad online behavior to the service or website where the bullying occurred. Take immediate steps to protect the target of bullying. Block the bully from further communication with your child by using the block function in the website. All major social networking sites (Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, etc.) have easy reporting mechanisms for kids and parents. Explain to kids and teens that they should never respond to “flame” with “flame.”

    As kids and teens report bad or risky behavior, the Internet becomes better and safer for everyone.

    Confer with other caring adults in your child’s life (teacher, counselor or principal) – they are there to be your partners. Many schools have bullying policies that include recourse for online harassment. If you know who the bully is, respond to the bully. To get to the root of the issue, we need to understand why the bully is acting this way. Bullies are typically students who are in some sort of trouble and need adult help in addressing unmet needs.

    Occasionally, educators may not take parental reports of bullying seriously. If this occurs, ask the person why they are not taking this seriously. If their answer does not make sense to you, talk to their supervisor or superior.

  3. Learn and Show

    Ask your child about bullying to better understand how it manifests in school. Explain why it’s important to be an up-stander and point out real life, relevant examples. Make up-stander behavior an implicit – or explicit – model of relating with the world.

    Kids online will often be the first to know when something is wrong with a friend or classmate. Some teens will leave “crumbs” online when considering suicide or other high risk behavior.

Note: In extreme situations where a student needs to intervene in an emergency, such as suicide, they do not need to have an exact address. (Teens generally share cell phone numbers, not addresses.) Call 911, and give the cell phone number of the victim and any other details that may help (parents’ names, etc.).

If we can help kids understand how much bullying hurts, how in many cases (unlike the children’s chant) words can hurt you, fewer may cooperate with the cyberbullies. They will think twice before forwarding a hurtful email, or visiting a cyberbullying “vote for the fat girl” site, or allowing others to take videos or cell phone pictures of personal moments or compromising poses of others. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said that in the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. We need to teach our children not to stand silently by while others are being tormented. It is crucial that we teach them not to take matters into their own hands; they need to come to us. And if we expect them to trust us, we need to be worthy of that trust.

If given an anonymous method of reporting cyberbullying Web sites, profiles and campaigns, kids can help put an end to cyberbullying entirely. School administration, community groups and even school policing staff can receive these anonymous tips and take action quickly when necessary to shut down the site, profile or stop the cyberbullying itself. They can even let others know that they won’t allow cyberbullying. Supporting the victim and making it clear that they won’t be used to torment others and that they care about the feelings of others are key.

Reducing their exposure to vulgar language

Just as in any city, there are areas in cyberspace that are not necessarily appropriate for children or teens, and may contain vulgar language.

Options (not necessarily recommendations) for preventing your child from being exposed to inappropriate material include:

  • Set rules about where kids can go online and what to do if they stumble upon inappropriate sites.
  • Keep any connected computer in a public area of the house (not a child’s bedroom), and make sure that other family members walk in the room periodically.
  • Consider not allowing children and teens to use the Internet if parents aren’t home. You may wish to consider using time-limiting software to make sure that kids can go online only when you’re around.
  • Consider checking the browser history to see where kids have been and having a “talk” if they are visiting inappropriate sites.
  • Consider installing monitoring software that tracks where kids have been (it’s usually a good idea to let them know you’re doing so).
  • Consider installing filtering software that blocks kids from visiting sites that you feel are in appropriate.

Sites promoting inappropriate behaviors such as eating disorders and drug use

Girls look to the media for role models and when they compare themselves, they necessarily come up short. This lowers self-confidence and self-esteem at a time, developmentally, when kids are vulnerable anyway. Talking to girls about their weight is one of the hardest things parents can do – but the constant bombardment of messages about desirable weight and appearance makes this discussion crucial.

Media profoundly influences boys’ expectations of what a real body type is. And given that boys often organize around “alpha” leaders, body size and type become huge social organizing principles. This article helps parents talk to boys about body image.

If you’re concerned about what your kids might come across or seek out online, there are tools to consider. Keep in mind that while parental controls work well for young children, teens who’ve been online for years probably won’t have much trouble working around them or finding other computers to use. The best way to protect your kids online? Talk to them. When children want important information, most rely on their parents – so start the conversation with your kids early. Be upfront about your values and how they apply in an online context.

Malware: What is it and how to make sure your children don’t install it

The internet is a very useful tool, but it can be a dangerous place if you don’t protect yourself. For criminals and scam-artists, the internet is big business and we’re all targets. Attacks can strike anytime your computer is connected to the internet. At worst, these attacks can destroy our computers, drain our accounts and steal our identities.

The good news is that for every scam and attack, there are effective ways to protect yourself while still continuing to enjoy the enormous benefits of the internet. Learning a little bit about some of the threats that are out there can help you enjoy a safer, happier internet experience.

Email Scams (“Phishing”)
Email is a favorite tool of online criminals. Email costs virtually nothing to send and can be blasted out to millions of potential victims at once. One of the most common email fraud techniques is called “phishing.” In a typical phishing scam, an email is forged to look like an official message from a real-world bank or e-commerce company. The message directs victims to a fake Web page, where they are prompted to provide their account information. By mimicking the email and Web sites of popular banks and e-commerce companies these scams can easily fool people who have existing relationships with those companies.

Viruses, Worms and Trojan Horses
These computer programs are every bit as nasty as they sound. Viruses, worms and Trojan horses can be transmitted in a number of ways, but mainly travel over email. Although they differ in substantial ways, all are designed to spread themselves from one computer to another over the internet and cause havoc once they arrive. Some of these programs simply cripple the computers they infect but more commonly, they are designed to give the criminals who create them some sort of access to those computers.

Spyware and Adware
The words “spyware” and “adware” can be confusing, because they’re used to describe a lot of different technologies. The two important things to know about spyware and adware programs is that 1) they can download themselves onto your computer without your permission (typically when you visit an unsafe Web site) and 2) they can make your computer do things you don’t want it to do. Sometimes that might be as simple as opening an advertisement you didn’t want to see. In the worst cases, spyware can track your online movements, steal your passwords and compromise your accounts.

Although they sound like something out of a bad science fiction movie, botnets have become a very real security risk on the internet. Botnets are made up of large numbers of computers that have been infected by criminals (often using some of the tools mentioned above). Often, the people whose computers are trapped in botnets don’t even know that they’ve been infected. Criminals use these armies of infected computers to attack Web sites by flooding them with massive amounts of traffic. These attacks can devastate companies, and even entire countries in some cases. Victims caught in botnets can also be subject to identity theft as their personal information is compromised.

Parents should teach their kids to not download anything from the internet unless it is from a trusted source and to never click on any links that come anonymously through email.