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Dr. Robi's Advice for Online Safety

Last week, I wrote an article for the Huffington Post as a safety alert for parents. I heard of a new site, Chatroulette, from a friend. It’s a video chat site that sounded fun at first, but ended up being loaded with graphic images and potential predators. If you haven’t read the article about safety and Chatroulette, please do so to stay informed about a site that’s growing in popularity among teens (but, I think, is completely inappropriate—we’ve blocked it in our house).

I asked Dr. Robi Ludwig, a new contributor to Care.com and nationally known psychotherapist, to share some of her own tips and advice for parents about online safety. Use these in your own home and share them with your caregivers to keep your kids safe!

Dr. Robi’s Advice for Online Safety

I always tell parents to be as involved in their children’s lives as possible. This goes beyond being a part of their hobbies and interests—it also means knowing who their friends are. Peer groups are a huge influence on your kids. Knowing who your children hang out with and being involved in their social lives are keys to making sure they’re safe and protected.

With kids and teenagers spending so much of their time online, it’s also up to the parents to also be aware of who their kids’ online friends are and what their internet habits are like. For the same reasons you keep track of what they’re doing in the real world, you should regularly monitor what your children are doing on the internet, as well.

Spend time with your kids on the computer
For a start, take the time to surf the web with your kids (especially younger ones, teaching them as you go).

With older children, ask them to teach you more about the computer, as well as some of the tricks they have learned. You'll learn how computer savvy your child is and may even pick up a few useful tips along the way. Don’t underestimate the importance of learning about computers and the internet. It's hard to protect your kids if you're not computer literate.

Let your children know you will occasionally be watching and monitoring their online activity. Internet security tools like OnlineFamily.Norton include parental controls that can help monitor and encourage safe surfing.

Teach the safety “basics”
Teach your child not to meet strangers off-line or share personal information under any circumstances. Have them tell you right away if they run into a website or a person they have questions about.

Put the computer in a public place
It's best to put the computer in a place that can be easily accessed by the whole family, like your living room. Keeping the screen in a public place makes it a lot harder for anyone to hide their internet activities.

Check your kids’ website activity and email
This even goes for teens, who might consider this an invasion of their privacy. However, it’s the older teenagers who are more likely to get into trouble than younger children, because they’re more likely to explore all the nooks and crannies of cyberspace.

Have your kids share their passwords and email account with you—they might not like it, but it’s the easiest way to keep track of what they’re talking about and who they’re talking to. Often, just knowing you have the ability to check up on them is enough to keep them in line.

Watch for the warning signs
You should check your monthly credit card bill or debit card activities. Many porn sites or online gambling sites require credit cards from users seeking to access their sites. You might not see actual charges, so look out for unexplained items of $1.00 or less—sometimes that can be a site verifying the card is real.

Other big warning signs are when kids stop talking about what they are doing on the internet, minimize windows when parents come in the room, and/or receive unexplained phone calls. If you see any of these things happening, talk to your kids right away.

The most important thing you can do in terms of online safety is to get involved in your children’s lives. Take the first step and get to know their online friends and (perhaps most importantly) ask your children about any suspicious activity. While kids may not own up to everything in a straightforward manner, they will often talk about things they know are not right. The easier it is for your child to talk to you, the more likely they will be to keep you in the loop. If you make these check-ins regular occurrences, you’re more likely to spot trouble areas before they become full-blown problems.

Stay safe!
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