As our digital universe continues to expand, parents and other responsible adults must remain unwaveringly diligent in protecting children from the ever-present dangers prowling the Internet.For an adult, the most feared danger targeting children in the cyber community is often the sexual predator – those who seek to obtain sexual interaction with their target, either physically or virtually. These predators most often respond to children and teens using social networking sites and those who post pictures of themselves online. For children, the most often experienced danger is the cyber bully – those who threaten, lie about, stalk or otherwise harass their targets. These bullies engage in everything from unwanted bombardment to hate speech to humiliating, embarrassing posts to publishing private or doctored photos. There is also a plethora of inappropriate content on the Internet, normally reflecting sexual or violent themes. And don’t be fooled – drug trafficking deals in cyberspace. Recently a MySpace page included a price list for Ecstasy. An alert mom reported it to authorities ending in the arrest of ten drug dealers.One of the best gifts you can give a child is to help them learn critical thinking skills. Their online activities are a perfect place to reinforce these skills. Teach them how to select neutral on screen names and email addresses. Help them think through a post before they submit it – are they about to reveal personal information such as their full name or the names of family members or friends, event information such as birthdays or parties, or where they live or go to school? Is the information going to inflame or incite, even if that wasn’t the child’s intent? If they are participating in a blog, help them learn to express themselves creatively while maintaining an appropriate level of self-disclosure. When posting photographs, help the child assess the appropriateness of the photograph. Also, does it include inadvertent personal information such as license plates, street or other identifiable signs, clothing with school or town names? All of these are learning opportunities for the child both about thinking and about safety.The best defense against cyber dangers is to teach your children to think before they act, because as much as you want to be, you’re not always going to be there.
social networking, safety in cyberspace; children & teens;