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Los Niños en la Internet: Manténganlos Seguros

Kids Online: Keeping them Safe

By Antonia Wang

Over 77% of the U.S. population was online as of 2010, according to the U.N. Agency for Information and Communication Technologies (ITU). This means that more children are online at a much faster rate than ever before.  While the Internet is a valuable resource for schoolwork, communication, recreation--and learning essential computers skills--there's a dark side. Sexual predators use it to locate and lure victims; identity thieves lurk; kids bully other kids online, among other issues.

Does this mean you should forbid your children from going online? Absolutely not, says Arnold E. Bell, Head of the FBI's Innocent Images Unit, Cyber Division, Calverton, Md. "The 'Net is a necessary tool for success in life today--you have to have cyber skills." Just as in the non-cyber world, parents can allow children to take advantage of opportunities while taking steps to keep them safe. "Common sense prevails," says Arnold, who has teenagers of his own.

Online supervision can minimize the risks of Internet usage and keep your children safe.

The dangers

The risks are real, Arnold emphasizes. "People can pretend to be anyone online. A 49-year-old man might post a picture of an 18-year-old surfer on his Internet profile and say it's him." Predators gain children's trust, and then may send sexually explicit material, request nude photos, or even convince children to meet them - alone.

When accessing a Web site, one wrong keystroke can send a child to a sexually explicit site. "There are also hate group or racist Web sites; graphic violence; information about satanic or cult groups; advertising for alcohol, tobacco, and drugs; even recipes for making illicit drugs and bombs," says Joan Haznaw, professional trainer, LifeMatters/EAP (employee assistance program) and WorkLife Services--NEAS Inc., Waukesha, Wis.

Add to these the dangers any online user faces, like phishing e-mails that look like they're from legitimate businesses, but ask readers to provide information that criminals can use to commit identity theft or other fraud. It all seems daunting, but you can use a combination of active parenting and technology to minimize the risks.

Active parenting

"Whenever I talk with parents, I tell them to balance their fears with thoughts of the wonderful opportunities the Internet opens up for kids," says Haznaw. "I don't want to scare my own kids about the Internet as something evil; and if we preach, it just becomes more attractive to them. But stay involved and take an interest."

First and foremost, she advises, parents need to communicate openly and honestly with their kids. "Let them know of the potential dangers and why it's necessary for you to be involved, and set limits on their online activity."

Particularly with younger kids, make computer use a family experience, recommends Bell. "Don't drop kids in front of it and walk away--you're basically leaving them with who knows who. Sit there and work through things with your kids." This will help you learn the technology, too.

You also can use parental-control tools that can help eliminate unwanted e-mails, block sexually graphic and violent content, monitor kids' Internet use, limit their time online, and prevent them from giving out personal information.

Here are some tips from Haznaw and ITU for keeping kids safe online:

  • Keep the computer in a busy room so you can monitor your child's use.
  • Set clear rules regarding computer use and enforce consequences for misuse. Supervise and set rules for your children's social media use (sites such as Facebook, twitter, Tumblr, etc.). Clarify what kind of content should or should not be posted or viewed (including pictures, videos and status updates).
  • Become familiar with the Internet sites used by your children and have a good understanding of how they spend their time online*
  • Understand how children use other personal devices such as mobile phones, games consoles, MP3 players and PDAs*
  • Limit use of credit cards and other forms of payment by children online
  • Be clear with your children that they're never to give out personal information such as name, age, grade, school, address, phone number, photos, e-mail address, or credit card information without your permission.
  • Keep an eye out for changes in your child's behavior, such as secretiveness, inappropriate sexual knowledge, or difficulty sleeping. Address any concerns right away and if you discover that someone is attempting to exploit, entice, or threaten your child (or any child) online, contact your local police and the Cyber Tip Line, or 800-843-5678.
  • Investigate online resources for further information about online safety and how to use the Internet in a positive way. Check out Web sites such as NetSmartz.org, which have valuable, up to date information for kids and parents regarding Internet safety.

*The ITU's suggested guidelines for parents and educators are accessible on page 35 of this PDF.

By educating your children early on, you're providing them with tools to keep themselves safe. And, says Bell, "by the time they're teens, hopefully you'll have a good barometer about how your kids normally act," and you'll easily identify unusual behavior. "I don't browbeat my kids anymore," he adds. "They're very Internet-savvy."


You're not alone in trying to protect your children from online dangers. Law enforcement agencies, industry coalitions, and other nonprofit organizations are all working to prevent Internet abuses.

"It's still a growing problem; the number of child-abuse cases is increasing, but that's partly because law enforcement efforts have increased and we're discovering and working more cases," says Bell. "With coordinated law-enforcement task forces like Project Safe Childhood, we can bring cases into federal court," and minimize jurisdiction problems.

"I wouldn't say we have our hands around it yet, but we are attacking the issue in a global way," he continues. "We have a global task force with officers assigned from different countries, because every case we work has international tentacles."

Published 6-14-2012.



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