Cyber safety is an important parent-child discussion to revisit frequently with your child, from elementary school through high school. Experts warn that children are most vulnerable to online dangers while in their own home.  While many potential dangers are filtered so students can't access them at schools, parents sometimes forget that children may have direct access to inappropriate sites at home.

Here are some things to review with your child or teen:

  • Anything they do or post online creates a digital record, often called your "Cyber Footprint." Nothing online is totally private, even if you intend it to be.  Once digitized, it can be saved, sent and reposted elsewhere.
  • A good rule of thumb: If you don't want a parent, teacher, principal, future employer or college admissions office to know something, don't post it online. Watch Watch MHS Drama Team's Public Service Announcement about this (Secondary Students).
  • "Friends" aren't always who they say they are; undercover police and pedophiles pretend to be kids online. Watch iKeepSafe.org's Faux Pas the Cat (Elementary Students). 
  • Never post personal information online. This includes: full name, address, phone number, email, where you are meeting friends or where you hang out. Watch "Tracking Teresa" to learn how easy it is for someone to find out about you based on what you post online (Elementary and Secondary Students).

While the Internet is an incredible resource with countless educational opportunities, there are also frightening dangers that kids can get involved in or be exposed to online. Pornography is often just a click away, and kids are curious. Social Networking sites like MySpace and Facebook for teens (Webkinz and Club Penguin for younger students) are a popular way to connect with friends and meet new people, but these sites are mostly unsupervised and may push limits and test boundaries. Watch Social Networking in Plain English to understand how Social Networks operate. Videos on YouTube and similar sites with live web cams allow kids to be creative and share all sorts of content, some of which may be inappropriate or unwise to publish.

Cyberbullying (threatening or harassing another individual through technology), is a growing concern for today's youth.  It takes many forms, such as forwarding a private email, photo, or text message for others to see, starting a rumor, or sending a threatening or aggressive message, often anonymously.  Talk with your child about not partaking in this behavior, and encourage her/him to report it to an adult.  Some videos online to help kids understand this include Ad Council Commercials Talent Show (Elementary and Middle School Students) or Kitchen (High School Students), as well as NetSmartz.org's videos on Broken Friendship (Secondary Students) or You Can't Take It Back (Secondary Students).  ThatsNotCool.com is a good resource about textual harassment, as well as information for parents from a Today Show segment. There are many other helpful resources for parents, such as Cyberbully.org and Connect with Kids ' Parent Video on Cyberbullying . 

What you can do to keep your child safe online:

  • Maintain open communication with your child about these topics.
  • Regularly ask your child about his or her computer activities.
  • Ask to get a tour of the sites your child visits.
  • Proactively set guidelines for computer use at your house, as well as when they are with friends. View Dr. David Walsh's articles about Internet Safety, MySpace, and Pornography, as well as Parent-Child Contracts .
  • Know your child's passwords. This enables you to gain access to their e-mail, social networking sites, etc. in case of an emergency.
  • Google family members to be aware of your cyber footprint online. Set up a Google Alert for each family member for free.
  •  Purchase software to filter and block inappropriate content on your home computer. The schools use these tools as well. Some possible filters to consider include SafeEyes and KidsWatch , DansGuardian  (free), or if you have a newer PC computer with Microsoft Vista, the software is built right into the operating system- it's called Parental Controls and there is no need to buy anything else.

More helpful websites with Internet safety tips for parents:

Connect With Kids

Common Sense Media

iKeepSafe.org

McGruff Online Safety for Kids

PBS Parenting in an Internet Age

Net Smartz

Teens and Technology from Parents: The Anti-Drug   Great resources and an online "Crash Course" for parents on technology.

Wired Safety Website  - Parent Guide and contract


Source: Minnetonka K-12 schools I.T. department