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Internet Safety for Children

The world experienced by kids today is very different from the one we experienced growing up. In fact, there is no one under the age of 18 who knows what the world was like before the internet. Conversely, few parents today can identify with the challenges of growing up in a digitally connected world.

As parents, we are always concerned about predators and the potential for exploitation. Beyond the old concerns of warning our children not to accept candy from strangers, we now have to worry about internet stalking, cyberbullying and online sexual predators. It s almost enough to make you want to turn off or block the internet altogether. That's virtually impossible in a world that includes mobile devices, public computers and home internet filter workarounds. But there is hope.

Understanding where the threats against your children are coming from is the first step toward better protecting your kids. According to the Journal of Adolescent Health, in 82 percent of online sex crimes against minors, attackers used information from their victim's social media account to identify likes and dislikes, and 65 percent used it to find where the child lived or went to school. The same study says 26 percent of predators used social media to locate their victim at any given time.

Mastering privacy controls and filters, and teaching your children how to apply them to online social media, is the first step. The second is to learn how to manage the technology they use that is hemorrhaging location information. Facebook lets you limit access to your posts and information, but it still provides your exact location with each post. Twitter maps your location if you allow it to, but the location can be disabled altogether. Alternatively, location services for any social networking app can be disabled on your child s smartphone if that is the platform he or she is posting from. Really the only person who should know where your child is at any given moment is you.

Once you ve managed to help your children keep their location information secure, you need to talk to them about their friends. Predators and cyberbullies often begin their approach as someone who knows someone, who knows someone. Predators exploit the potential of networking where a mutual friend can come with an artificial seal of approval.

How you respond when you receive a social media friend request is probably the best way for your children, too. Just like you, they should be looking at who sent the request. This goes beyond checking out what that person has posted in the past; they should also check whether they have actually met the person sending the request.

It's social media's inclusive nature that draws people, and especially kids. Most social media platforms offer an easy way to find groups and people with mutual interests. When this information is public, online predators can use it to begin their approach, crafting their image to suit the passions and interests of their prospect.

Stranger danger is still very much a real concern, and it s important to talk to your children about online threats just like you would warn them about the person in the windowless van offering free candy.

Be sure to set clear expectations about your children's behavior without intimidating them. One in seven children will be solicited for sex online, and over 56 percent will be asked to send a picture; half of those requests will be for one that is sexually explicit. This can be a very intimidating experience for an adolescent, so it s important that they feel comfortable speaking to you about the situations they encounter along the way.