Internet Safety Tips
"Must be at least 13 years of age." This is typical language often included within the Terms of Service of sites that our children frequent. It indicates the minimum age required to use the site. But, does minimum age actually reflect the appropriate age for usage? The answer to that question is sometimes, not always – it depends. So why do most mainstream sites use 13 as the minimum age? Basically, it's the age in which a minor can create an account without the online site being burdened with legal requirements governing information collection. Thirteen marks a threshold for easy entry.
As I mentioned above, not all sites are appropriate for a young person. It depends heavily on two main factors: mature content allowed on the site and treatment of that mature content (whether allowed or not). As parents, we can't rely solely on the stated age for use. We must review the site for content appropriateness taking into consideration the age and maturity level of our children. Here are some helpful tips:
- Review the Terms of Service to understand what content is allowed on the site. Does it include prohibitions against sexually explicit content? If not, the content will be available and minors will be exposed to it.
- If a site allows mature content, do they have protections in place minimizing the risk of exposure to minors? Protections would include tools such as a safe search filter and/or age gate to prevent access.
- Search the site using explicit terms or the acronym "NSFW," meaning not safe for work. What's being returned? Were you able to easily find a significant amount of mature content even though the site prohibits it? If so, this is a good indication that the site may not take steps to enforce their terms.
- Is there report abuse button for consumers to alert the site of potential violations? Report a violation to test the effectiveness of the tool.
We don't have to actively use the sites that our kids use; however, we need to understand what they are exposed to on these sites. Once our children are exposed to age-inappropriate content, we can't take those images, thoughts or words away.
Since its inception, this feature has caused much hype in IT magazines and online forums. Many ardently claim that this feature compromises privacy and endangers safety, while also presenting opportunities for stalking and other malicious activities. Also, friends can check into a certain location and broadcast who they are with, thus sacrificing the privacy of others. In contrast, other blogs state that while some may view it as privacy infringement, Facebook allows one to alter his or her privacy settings so that Places does not apply to them. It is a service for only those who wish to use it and Facebook works perfectly fine without it.
It is critical to explore this feature and make an informed decision before using it. To its credit, Facebook has implemented certain in built privacy settings for those who choose to avoid Places. First, this is an opt-in instead of an opt-out option. This means that Facebook users must manually choose to enable it; it is not a default setting. Secondly, even if friends have tagged you while "checking in," you can choose to reject the tag. This allows your friends to remain checked in and you to remain incognito simultaneously. The simplest way to disable this feature altogether is to uncheck a box in the privacy settings, under "Applications and Websites." This way, users don't have to worry about instantly untagging themselves.
Although Facebook Places does provide added entertainment and some convenience, it is a feature that must be used with complete awareness and prudence. As with all social networking websites, it is extremely important to steer clear of unsafe online behavior.
The Internet Education Foundation (IEF) today announced the launch of "Net Safety Tips On The Go" (Net Safety Tips OTG), the first-ever digital safety and security advice app for wireless users. Developed with the support of Google and Verizon, this innovative app makes it easy for consumers and families to keep up with mobile and online privacy, safety, and security issues using their Android smartphone or tablet.
The app dispenses quick, practical, friendly advice in easy-to-digest portions - one tip at a time - to help users use the Internet and smartphones safely. These tips offer information on mobile privacy and security, searching and surfing the Web safely, safeguarding your sensitive financial online information and more. The premier online safety education organizations in the world including Common Sense Media, ConnectSafely.org, OnGuardOnline.gov, and GetNetWise.org produce content to feed the app. Other leading online safety, security and privacy organizations are expected to contribute soon.
"Mobile broadband technology provides limitless opportunities for fun, education and entertainment for everyone," said Rose Kirk, Verizon Foundation president. "To make the most of these opportunities, families need to feel comfortable online. Tools such as Net Safety Tips On The Go help provide families peace of mind, knowing they have the knowledge needed to be safe and secure in the digital world."
Mobile app-based education allows busy people to be more personally productive during their hectic days making Net Safety OTG the perfect tool to educate them. "This app is a terrific idea, especially for people whose lives revolve around their phones," noted Larry Magid, Internet safety pioneer and co-director of ConnectSafely.org. "Everything is going mobile, and now we have put crucial online safety and security education in the hands of anyone with an Android phone or tablet," said Tim Lordan, IEF Executive Director.
Net Safety Tips OTG is available as a free download from the Android Market™ and is featured in the Verizon tab of the Android Market™ on Verizon Wireless smartphones. Visit http://netsafetyapp.org for more information, sample tips and download information.
Sexting isn't making anyone any money (that I know of), but 3 in 10 young people report being a part of some kind of naked sexting (either sending or receiving). One in 10 report sending a naked picture of him or herself. This translates into more people sexting than using their cell phone to access pornographic web sites.
Parents are shocked by this, but some teens just see it as a part of life or no big deal.
So what now? We educate the youth. We (as parents) spend time talking with our kids about the realities in the world. We incorporate the new technology into the teachings at school, and we hope for the best. All we can do is teach them about using technology responsibly and the risks that they face. It is up to the youth to decide what to do with the information.
What are your thoughts on how to best educate the youth about the dangers of sexting?
NetSmartzKids is a great resource for younger kids. There are games, videos and trivia that are made for the younger users.
Related to NetSmartz, NSTeens.org. This is made for the teens in the house and includes comics, videos and games.
Parents are invited to read past entries on SafetyClicks, learn about the internet safety program from Enough.org and simply talk to your kids about what they do online.
Internet Safety Month may not be the most glamorous celebration this summer, but I think it is one worth celebrating. What do you think you can do to mark the occasion?
3 Simple Rules to Keep in Mind
- Stick with your friends. Have your teens limit their privacy settings to Only Friends. That'll restrict who sees your kids' information, including pictures, videos, and applications they use.
- Keep private information private. When filling out their bios, teens can leave fields blank. There is no need for your teens to post their phone numbers or addresses. These features are optional and aren't required to create a Facebook account.
- Don't let your information get away from you. If your teens haven't restricted who can share their information, their personal data can end up in the hands of marketers. Also, advise your teens to be on the lookout for personal information requests -- like their birthday or music playlist -- from third parties. And make sure your teens uncheck the public search results box so people can't find their Facebook page through a Google search.
What are some simple tips you have to keep yourself and family safe while online?
10 - Who Wants To Know? When you are registering with web sites that ask for information that you don't think it makes sense for them to have, double check it how that informaiton could be used. For example, most of the time when you are commenting, or interacting in some way, it is normal for a site to ask for your email address. But if you are not buying anything, it is not normal to ask for payment information.
9 - Who Are You? It is important to not lie about your identity, but also not reveal too much. It is OK to tell your real first name and age. It is normally OK to share your home state. It is a bad idea to give your address, phone number, or any personally identifiable information to people you don't know in real life.
8 - Sticks and Stones: I have been called many names, by many people - some not so flattering. Many times the best way to stop a bully is to ignore them. Reputable communication tools have the ability to block or ignore users including AOL's Instant Messenger (AIM) and e-mail systems, Facebook, Bebo, MySpace and Twitter. Use them. Love them. It can help save your sanity.
7 - Just Say No: Kids should be taught to get an adult whenever they see something online that makes them uncomfortable. Whatever makes you uncomfortable should be reported, then you blocked so that person cannot contact you again.
You Are Here is a campaign showing kids and teens how to be smarter consumers. Questions such as how to comparison shop, how to tell if a deal is too good to be true, and even how to protect your identity.
I love that the information is clear and age appropriate, but still covers everything you'd need to know. Although the site isn't 100% specific to online safety, it does cover identity protection, how to identify a scam and how to protect your privacy. Take a look at the site and share it with kids. Come back here and tell us what you think about it.
The two stories featured were a young girl who sent a topless picture of herself and a boy who forwarded a picture of his girlfriend from his cell phone. She ended up having her picture sent to everyone in not only her school, but other schools as well. He was convicted as a sex offender and is facing those consequences (including not being able to get a job or even live with his father because of the proximity to a school). Neither person was anyone I would think would even think of doing anything like this. Both described that 'they didn't think' anything bad would happen and certainly would never have done it had they thought about consequences. I could see myself in both of these young people.
The entire episode is available online. I re-encourage you to watch it with young people in your life. It is an important topic that might lead to helping them think about consequences.
Once you watch it, post your thoughts about the documentary in the comments. Do you see yourself, or your kids, in those featured?
In the last few months the topic of sexting seems like it is everywhere. We talk about it here on SafetyClicks a lot, but the same concerns we discuss are in the main stream as well. A recent episode of The Deep End, a new ABC show about a law firm, one of the clients was a teen facing charges distribution of child pornography for a picture taken of his girlfriend. The teen being charged with child pornography for sending a nude picture of their girl/boyfriend is not all that uncommon since the laws are not prepared for this kind of behavior.
If you want to watch the episode of 'The Deep End', you can watch the full episode online. On the show everything works out thanks to the savvy lawyers - do you think you would have the same luck?
What do you think about the topic of sexting showing up so much in pop culture?
YouTube is a great tool to share videos of your own and to watch the latest viral videos making their way through office buildings across the country. The challenge is that sometimes there are videos that are NSFW (not safe for work).
Thankfully, YouTube recognizes that not all videos are appropriate for all ages and came up with a Safety Mode. Similar to AOL Safe Search (YouTube filtering videos, while AOL Search filters search results), when it is in use it will not surface videos that are not appropriate for either viewing at work or viewing by younger users. Safety Mode can be set each time you go to the site, or can be permanently set if you login to your account. Kudos to YouTube for making our family viewing (and office viewing) that much safer.
What other safety tools do you know of?
All the advice I think is great, but I especially like the tips for older teens. When I was in high school (aka, the age that I "knew everything"), I may have hesitant to ask my parents advice. Being reminded by my parents that it was still OK to ask advice helped me.
Parent tips for elementary school kids
- -- Give them a code of conduct. Tell them that if they wouldn't say something to someone's face, they shouldn't text it, IM it, or post it.
- -- Ask your kids if they know someone who has been cyberbullied. Sometimes they will open up about others' pain before admitting their own.
- -- Keep online socializing to a minimum. Let them use sites like Webkinz or Club Penguin where chat is pre-scripted or pre-screened.
- -- Explain the basics of correct cyber behavior. Tell your kids that things like lying, telling secrets, and being mean still hurt in cyberspace.
- -- Tell kids not to share passwords with their friends.
Parent tips for middle school kids
Parent tips for high school kids
- -- Monitor their use. See what they're posting, check their mobile messages.
- -- Tell your kids what to do if they're harassed. They shouldn't respond or retaliate, they should block bullies immediately, and they should tell you or an adult they trust. They shouldn't delete the messages because in persistent cases, the content should be reported to a cell or Internet Service Provider.
- -- If your kid is doing the bullying, establish strict consequences and stick to them. That goes for mean or sexual comments about teachers, friends, and relatives.
- -- Remind them that all private information can be made public. Posts on friends' walls, private IMs, intimate photos, little in-jokes can all be cut, pasted, and sent around. If they don't want the world to see it, they better not post or send it.
- -- Don't start what you don't want to finish. Game chat can get ugly fast. Make sure your kids are respectful because hurtful retaliation happens all the time.
- -- Tell kids to think before they reveal. At this age, kids experiment with all sorts of activities, many of which should not be made public. Remind your teens that anything they post can be misused by someone else.
- -- Remind them they aren't too old to ask for your help. There are things some kids can handle on their own, but sometimes, they just need help. Coming to their parents isn't baby-ish, it's safe.
What other advice would you give to parents regarding cyberbullying?
How to keep our families safe while using technology is just one of the challenges . Enough.org has some shocking statistics on their web site. This is just a small sampling:
- Every second, $3,075.64 is spent on pornography
- 79% of youth unwanted exposure to pornography occurs in the home
- Child pornography has become a $3 billion annual industry
- 20 percent of teens have engaged in cyberbullying behaviors, including posting mean or hurtful information or embarrassing pictures, spreading rumors, publicizing private communications, sending anonymous e-mails or cyberpranking someone.
- 14 percent 7th-9th grade students reported that they had communicated with someone online about sexual things
- 30 percent of teenage girls polled by the Girl Scout Research Institute said they had been sexually harassed in a chat room. Only 7 percent, however, told their mothers or fathers about the harassment because they were worried that their parents would ban them from going online"
Enough Is Enough has developed a program called Internet Safety 101. Holly Hawkins, the Director of Consumer Policy & Child Safety (and one of our very own bloggers ) calls the program "a truly unique teaching series designed to bring Internet safety education into the busy lives of parents and other caregivers." She has witnessed how this program has really empowered parents and teachers regarding online safety.
I am not sure it is ever going to be possible to make the Internet 100% safe for all members of the family - but I do think that through education and empowerment, we can make it a safer place for everyone.
"My child wouldn't do that"
These are things people say about the youth in America. The first is what people say when someone takes something small and makes a huge deal about it. The second is what people say when they hear of a teen doing something that they never thought would happen. The third is what parents might say when they are asked if their teen has ever done anything they wouldn't approve of.
We've been writing about Sexting for a while. As an attempt to stop it, some have been very heavy handed with penalties for sexting including being charged for trading child pornography. Some don't see it as that big of a deal.
As a part of MTV's 'A Thin Line' campaign to stop digital abuse, they are showing a documentary called "Sexting in America: When Privates Go Public". In their research, they site that 3 out of 10 young people have either sent or received nude "sext" messages and only 51% of them believe that their digital actions could come back to haunt them later.
It is being aired on MTV this Sunday. When I checked my local listings it is being shown again a few more times this week. I think it would be a great thing to watch the young people in your life. Do you think you will watch this?