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How to keep kids safe on the Internet

Parents of yesteryear seldom had to worry about protecting their kids from strangers once their kids were safely inside the home.

But since the dawn of the Internet, parents know the safety of their private residence can be easily compromised. Be it through social media, chat rooms or other online outlets, strangers can now gain access to children in a variety of ways, many of which are seemingly innocent.

The prevalence of online predators has many parents looking for ways to protect their kids when they go online. Some parents may want to outlaw the Internet altogether until kids reach high school, but such a reaction can put kids at a significant disadvantage academically by barring them from what is often a valuable resource. Parents who want their kids to get the most out of the Internet without putting them in danger of online predators can employ the following tips.

•  Warn kids about the potential risks and dangers of the Internet. Many parents would prefer their kids did not know about Internet predators, but that wish should not outweigh the desire to keep kids safe. Teach kids that people on the Internet may not always behave honestly, misrepresenting themselves in an effort to gain access to unsuspecting and often trusting kids. Teach kids to take the same approach with online strangers that they do with strangers they see in public, never sharing any personal information or engaging in conversation with someone they don’t know. Teach kids to tell an adult they trust immediately if an online stranger contacts them.

• Use the filters at your disposal. Parents can filter certain websites so children cannot access them. Filter sites geared toward adults as well as any sites where kids might be at risk of coming into contact with potential predators. Block chat rooms and other sites where adults can pose as kids and make sure kids who are involved with social media have made their online profiles private and only accessible to friends and family members.

• Monitor kids’ online activity on a daily basis. The Internet is such a commonly used tool that many kids go online at least once per day. Homework assignments and other school functions are commonly posted online, and many kids communicate with friends via the Internet as much as they do in person. Parents should monitor their kids’ online activity on a daily basis, scanning their web history and examining their social media interactions to be sure kids aren’t putting themselves in harm’s way. Kids may grow more resistant to such monitoring as they grow older, but parents cannot turn a blind eye to kids’ online activity simply to avoid a confrontation.

• Keep the computer in a common area. The family computer should be kept in a common area where parents can monitor how much time kids are spending online, what they’re doing and who they’re speaking to while surfing the Internet. When kids have their own computers or tablets in their bedrooms, parents can easily lose track of how much time kids are spending online. This makes it easier for online predators to gain access to kids, who have a harder time recognizing potential predators than adults.

• Remember kids can get online on their smartphones, too. Computers are no longer the only way for kids to get online. More and more kids, especially those in high school, are doing their online surfing via their smartphones. Monitor kids’ mobile phone usage just like you do their computer usage. Peruse their call and texting history, and discuss any suspect usage with them immediately.

Kids spend more time online now than ever before, and that usage figures to increase in the coming years as the Internet becomes increasingly accessible. Parents should take steps to ensure their youngsters are safe when going online.

This story was posted on May 30, 2013.