Attention Parents — keep your kids safe online!

By:  Christine Voice, Health & Education Coordinator for the Boys & Girls Club of Green Bay

I decided one week to research some personal information on teens in our area to showcase how strangers can access what they share online.  I logged onto MySpace and printed several personal profiles (since they posted it on MySpace, they lose ownership over what they post).  I clicked on the “Looking to meet someone new?  Try browsing!” (Yes, it really says that.)  I narrowed down to the age, gender, and location of who I was looking for.  To best prove my point, I targeted teens in Green Bay.  The results: well, there were pages of teens listed, but the third entry- a teen that I work with!  I was able to access her FULL name, age, who her boyfriend was, where she was going to be tomorrow (that’s right- “so excited for BayBeach tomorrow!”), pictures from her latest high school dance, her interests, hobbies, sports, school, and the list goes on…   My jaw hit the floor and I immediately began thinking about all the things someone could do with this information she provided- I’m sure you too could think of a few.  (As a side note, yes I talked to this teen and her settings have been changed.)

While most users of social networking sites only mean well- there are many out there that don’t.  The sites can be used by ANYONE.  Anyone can create a profile with a false picture, name and age.  Kids can use this as another means of bullying, aka cyber bullying.  Teens can/do use technology for sexting (see Johns blog from June 2009- if you still don’t know this term, trust me, your kids do).

So what can YOU do?

·        Talk to Your Child(ren): Talk to your children about the benefits and dangers of the internet.  Find out what they are using their social networking sites for, who they are talking to, and what information they are sharing.

·        Change their PRIVACY SETTINGS: Social networking sites give you the option of who you will share your information with- select ‘only friends’ that way you have to give prior approval to anyone you are sharing with.  That said, also be sure to only add people you KNOW in real-life as friends to your accounts.

·        Check Your Child’s Mobile Devices: With SmartPhones kids are connected 24/7 and there is little opportunity to supervise these activities.  Rethink whether your child really should have this type of access.  Over 100 million of Facebook users are through mobile devices.

·        Supervise Computer time: Set guidelines for when the internet can be accessed, which sites are appropriate, and keep the family computer in a common area.

·        If you can’t beat ‘em, JOIN ‘EM!:  As a parent, don’t hesitate to create your own account!  There is no better way to be informed of the changing trends, keep an eye on your children, and maybe even reconnect with old friends.  As a Club staff, I am constantly trying new things just be ahead of the trends of our Club kids, sometimes I guess it wrong (our kids have had NO interest in Twitter) but other times, I have been able to make informed decisions on why we will or won’t have a MySpace Club, Runescape Gaming, or Meez computer time. 

·        Find out more:  The Boys and Girls Club of Green Bay will be partnering with law enforcement in hosting an informal meeting for parents to learn more about what’s happening in the online community and what you can do to keep your children safe.  A July date is being set and will be announced.    

·        ALSO, Visit the Boys and Girls Club of America and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s ‘Netsmartz’ websites at http://www.netsmartz.org.  This includes information for kids/teens, parents, educators, and law enforcement.  We use these materials- you should too!

You should know:  The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998, or COPPA, seeks to protect children’s privacy and bars most children under 13 from participating in many websites.  Facebook and MySpace, for example, require users be at least 13 years of age.

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