Our Children Need Online Protection

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By Feona Sharhran Huff

I expected to watch a two-minute music video of R&B artist Ciara on www.YouTube.com. Instead, a little girl – no more than 12, I would say – was gyrating, grinding, popping and winding to the songbird’s single in her bedroom.
Performing these moves in front of a mirror is one thing (though I really don’t feel that’s appropriate for a kid), but to videotape a striptease-like performance and post it for the world to see is clearly asking for trouble, inclusive of predators somehow tracking the person down. Don’t get me wrong, www.YouTube.com is viewed by thousands (including myself) as a vital and time-sensitive vehicle in which to share special and funny moments caught on the good ‘ol camcorder, but when kids can so easily get stuff posted, that’s truly scary. My concern is whether parents know what their kids are doing once they log onto the Internet – oftentimes doing so with a locked bedroom door.
“If you are not aware of what they do, you don’t have the opportunity to teach your kids about behavior to avoid,” explains Steve Roddel of www.familywatchdog.us, a free-service site that provides information and photos of convicted sex offenders nationwide. “If you don’t watch your kids, someone else will and you may not like the results.”
According to Roddel, whose 14-year-old daughter is among the thousands of teens to regularly engage in social networking on www.myspace.com, there is a one in five chance of young people communicating with a sexual predator online. Just recently, it was reported that there are 29,000 registered sex offenders on the popular site. However, what makes it highly unlikely for Andrea to fall prey to such interaction, says Roddel, is that he and his wife are watchdogs when it comes to her safety.
This, he offers – along with having open communication about the potential dangers of surfing, playing and socializing on the Internet as well as establishing rules and boundaries – is what other parents must also do. “My wife and I have her password,” Roddel says. “My wife of approves her friends and views all communication.” He adds: “We have age-appropriate discussions about what sexual predators are and what they do.”

Roddel has even empowered Andrea to know when sexual predators move into their community in Carmel, IN, by having e-mail alerts from his Website sent directly to her. “It allows her to elevate herself whereas she knows that we trust her by providing her with the information she needs,” he says. “Nobody’s going to walk up to you and tell you that they are a sex offender.”
The one thing Roddel cautions parent from doing, though they may think it’s in their best interest, is forbidding their children from going online. “The quickest way to get a teenager to do something is to tell them they can’t,” he explains. “Use that spite as a tool to allow them to learn the bad things that happen.”
Online safety Websites such as www.safekids.com and www.netsmartz411.org offer parents insightful tips to help keep their Web-using children protected such as keeping the computer in a neutral area. The rationale is that if the computer is in a heavily trafficked area in the house there is less of a chance for things to go wrong. The sites also encourage parents to familiarize themselves with sites that their children surf or have accounts with. Online safety experts Larry Magid and Anne Collier even wrote a book to show parents how to help their children socialize safely online with MySpace Unraveled: A Parent’s Guide to Teen Social Networking from the Directors of BlogSafety.com (www.myspaceunraveled.com).
Parents can go a step further in covering their safety basis by purchasing parent control software, which range in price and works by recording Web sites visited, blocking unwanted Web sites and recording instant messages.
“In the final analysis, it’s about being involved and engaged,” Roddel concludes. “Within about two minutes of talking with kids online, you can find out their number, where they live, their parents, names, etc. Parents have to be there to counter this.”
Want to make a pact with your children to help keep them safe while surfing the Internet? Simply sign and post the following parent pledge offered by www.Safekids.com near your computer. (FYI: There’s even a Kids Pledge). You can also download the pledges at http://safekids.com/family-contract-for-online-safety.

Parents’ Pledge
1. I will get to know the services and Web sites my child uses. If I don’t know how to use them, I’ll get my child to show me how.
2. I will set reasonable rules and guidelines for computer use by my children and will discuss these rules and post them near the computer as a reminder. I’ll remember to monitor their compliance with these rules, especially when it comes to the amount of time they spend on the computer.
3. I will not overreact if my child tells me about a problem he or she is having on the Internet. Instead, we’ll work together to try to solve the problem and prevent it from happening again.
4. I promise not to use a PC or the Internet as an electronic baby-sitter.
5. I will help make the Internet a family activity and ask my child to help plan family events using the Internet.
6. I will try to get to know my child’s “online friends” just as I try to get to know his or her other friends.
I agree to the above
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Parent(s)
I understand that my parent(s) has agreed to these rules and agree to help my parent(s) explore the Internet with me.
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Child sign here