School is out, web safety for kids is in

(photo courtesy: MGN Online)

(photo courtesy: MGN Online)

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – Summer’s increased free time usually means more online time for your children. The Better Business Bureau released a list of risks they see most often for kids who surf the web, and offer tips for parents to help keep them safe.

The end of a school year means an abundance of leisure time for kids, but for parents, it means a greater threat that lurks in the depths of the internet.

Michele Mason is with the BBB of North Alabama.  She says, “we know that there’s probably more opportunity right now, more unsupervised activity going on, with kids on the internet.”

The BBB urges parents to thoroughly prepare their children before allowing them to spend time unsupervised on the Internet. Mason wants parents to be aware of some pretty common risks kids can run into on the web.

Here is a list of the most prevalent risks that children may encounter online:

Bullying and harassment — This is most likely to occur through social networking sites or through email or text messages. It’s important to listen to your children and encourage them to discuss their fears and feelings about such incidents. The online safety website SafeKids.com has a page of resources to help you deal with cyberbullying.

Reputation-harming online posts — Children may not understand that “online is forever.” Posts can haunt them at some point in the future and may be saved by someone, even after it has been deleted. Be sure your kids understand this, especially as it applies to photographs.

Phishing attempts and identity theft — Help your children understand that emails requesting passwords and user names may be fake, even though they look legitimate. They should never click on links in such emails. Explain to them that passwords should be shared with no one except you, and make sure your devices’ operating systems and security software are kept up-to-date.

Inappropriate content — Children can easily stumble upon material that is sexual, violent or illustrates illegal activity. SafeKids.com also has resources for parents who discover that their children have been viewing pornography online.

Online stalkers/predators — The risk of a child or teen being harmed by someone they met online is considered to be low. Nevertheless, common-sense rules always apply. Any communication your child has with an unknown person online that veers into subjects like sex or physical details should be ended at once and reported to you.

Mason says, “a predator may take on a persona, even as another child, and be online trying to draw your child into a conversation, which down the road can evolve into meeting them and something happening or even just getting that child to give out personal information, private information that you wouldn’t want shared with a stranger.”

Let your child know never to tell a stranger they are home alone, or if they will be home alone at any time.

Security controls are a vital part of protecting your kids against online predators.  Mason says make sure privacy settings on Facebook and other social media are set the the highest standard.

“If they don’t have a security control set up, then someone could reach out and start initiating contact. So, it’s a good idea for parents to keep checking the security measures setup for their children’s Facebook accounts.”

The Better Business Bureau has a free online guide that explains privacy issues, cyber-bullying, stalking and other important aspects of online safety for children.

They also have a list of software you can install to monitor your child’s browsing and history on the web.

Mason says give children some space while surfing the web, it is summer after all. Just be mindful not to give too much space.



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