June is Internet safety month. With school out for summer, many children and teens will spend hours exploring the Internet. It can be a terrific tool, providing access to a wealth of information and interactive learning experiences. But the online world also has a dangerous side. As parents, we must make an extra effort to shield our children from potential danger.
Earlier this year, I was delighted to help launch Web Wise Kids in Arizona. Thanks to the support of the Entertainment Software Association and Web Wise Kids, 50 schools and the Attorney General's Office have been trained to use interactive video games to help teach middle school students about Internet predators. Who knew the response would be overwhelming to bring this video game to schools? The Web Wise Kids program is a promising approach because most students find the games engaging.
I have visited over 100 schools on my Internet Safety School Tour.
From these visits, I've learned a lot about how parents can protect their children from Internet harm. The following are five things you can do today to help your child stay safe online this summer.
Top Five Tips for Parents
1. Talk to your children about Internet safety.
Talk to your children and encourage them to show you the sites they visit and any photos they may have posted or distributed online or through text messages on their phones. Take a look at their Facebook, MySpace or other social networking pages. Most importantly, let your kids know it is safe to come to you with concerns about people they meet online, inappropriate pop-up messages or someone who sends them inappropriate materials, harasses them or bullies them online.
2. Set age appropriate rules about Internet and cell phone usage.
Warn your kids about posting phone numbers or addresses on social networking sites allowing strangers to be "friends" online or meeting someone in person you met online. In case of an emergency, it may be important to access your child's accounts. You or the police may need to know who has been in contact with them. Explain this to your kids and encourage them to share their passwords with you. After you set rules, stay involved and be sure your rules are followed. If you think that more oversight is needed, most Internet and cell phone service providers offer graduated levels of parental controls that block access to certain Web sites and features that allow monitoring of computer usage history.
3. Let your children know they can talk to you if they are bullied online.
Most children and teens who experience cyber-bullying do not tell an adult. Bullies can use the Internet and cell phones to harass their victims by posting damaging photos or hateful comments for the entire school to view or they can send harassing text messages to cell phones at all hours of the day. Tell to your children that you want to hear any problem or concerns they have with their friends or classmates online. If your child comes to you about being bullied online, respond in a non-judgmental way and don't hesitate to ask for help from school personnel.
4. Learn about the Internet.
Familiarize yourself with social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace, gaming sites like Counter Strike, virtual worlds like Second Life and other Web sites where your child expresses an interest. Learn Internet language, too. A recent national survey found that no more than 8 percent of adults could correctly identify commonly used Internet acronyms. See if you recognize these acronyms: LOL ("laugh out loud"); POS ("parent over shoulder"); WTCP ("want to go private"); KOL ("Kiss on Lips"); P911 ("Parent Over Shoulder").
5. If you suspect that your child has been approached by a sexual predator, talk openly about your suspicions.
If you find that anything inappropriate has taken place, contact the police immediately. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children accepts reports of child sexual exploitation and directs them to the appropriate federal, state and local law enforcement agencies through the CyberTipline. To make a report, visit www.cybertipline.com or call 1.800.843.5678.
Parents are the first line of defense against Internet predators.
Terry Goddard is Arizona's attorney general. For more tips and links to other resources, check out the Internet Safety Guide on the Arizona Attorney General's Office Web site, http://www.azag.gov.