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Six Tips for Making Your Children's Virtual World a Safer One

One of the biggest rules of writing is to write what you know. For that reason, I’ve never been afraid to chronicle my life as a husband, as a stepdad and as the father of triplets — much of it online.

Though the vast majority of people have no problem with this practice, there does exist a vocal minority who are quick to call me out from high atop their soapboxes, angrily (if not sanctimoniously) pointing out my recklessness. Writing about my children online, they contend, exposes them to great danger as virtually anyone who is hell-bent on accessing them could probably do so.

Guess what?

They’re right. But if their kids are listed in a school directory, any person who gets his or her hands on it could probably access them, too. Not to mention the church directory. Or the phone book for crying out loud.

My point? Creeps are creeps. Do they exist online? You bet. But only because they exist in real life, too.

This is not to say I’m not worried about the safety of my children. It’s just that I know that my online presence isn’t endangering them. In fact, my technological know-how is actually keeping them safer.

At least according to a recent story on ABC news dot com which offers parents six tips to help keep their kids safe online. The very first one is to know your kids’ technology.

Joe Sullivan, chief security officer for Facebook, says that “as a parent…I would make sure I understand the technology that [my kids are] using and the sites they’re visiting and then I would make sure they’re following the appropriate safeguards for that environment.”

Carolyn Knorr, parenting editor for Common Sense Media, points out that the internet is but the tip of the iceberg. Kids are using everything from their mobile phones to their Nintendo DSi-s to instantaneously connect with one another. Though keeping up with our kids’ technology may be daunting, it’s a must if you’re serious about keeping them safe.

The other five tips are as follows:

Make sure their equipment is up to date: That means, among other things, to stay current on your antivirus software. By doing so, you’ll greatly reduce the spam and phishing attacks which are often designed to lure your kids to places you’d just as soon they never go.

Apply the golden rule to the digital world: Simply put — don’t do it if you wouldn’t want it done to you. Just ask Karen Owen.

Let them know that private never really means private: Again, I defer to Karen Owen. Our kids need to understand that these days, even a simple email sent to but a single friend can quickly turn into world-wide news.

Start the conversation early: Just like you’d never let your children swim until they knew the appropriate way to conduct themselves in the pool, you should never allow them online until they know how to conduct themselves there, too. There’s simply too much potential for danger. And the only way kids will understand the difference between what is okay and what is not is for parents to talk to them about it. The earlier that conversation starts, the better. Especially now that sites like Webkinz are enabling our kids to interact online at a very young age.

Keep the conversation going: There are certain topics parents should never stop discussing with their children. Bullying, drugs, and drinking and driving immediately come to mind. Add internet safety to the list. Keep the conversation going and stay abreast of your child’s virtual life just as you do his or her real one.

Notice how most of these safety tips apply not only to the virtual world but also the real one? That’s because the virtual world has become an integral part of the real world. Particularly for our kids. So to those in the vocal minority — instead of disparaging some of us for how we operate in cyberspace, perhaps you should simply learn more about how the internet actually works. Just a thought.

And here’s another. While I found the list to be very helpful, I was surprised that don’t talk to strangers didn’t make the cut. That’s certainly something my wife and I constantly remind our daughter. What are some of the precautions you practice when it comes to your children’s online safety?

Photo: morgueFile

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