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Tips to ensure your kids are staying safe in the Cyber-World…

By Lynette Owens, founder and director of outreach for Trend Micro’s Internet Safety for Kids and Families program

As this holiday season officially kicks off, shopping is in full force for most of us parents. This is the right time to ask ourselves, “Are my kids ready for the latest tech toys that they will undoubtedly be asking for this year?” While most kids know the fun side of tech toys, they are not always aware of the responsibilities and risks associated with them.

As a high-tech mom of two and the head of Trend Micro’s Internet Safety for Kids & Families program, I’ve put together some tips to help you make sure your kids are using these tech toys wisely and safely. Along with their new technical abilities, we need to teach them how to be responsible, gadget-owning citizens.

Some ways to approach the basic question, “are they ready?”

If your kid wants a cell phone or a smartphone, consider this:

  • Determine first what they will use it for and when, where and with whom. If this is their first phone, it might be best to limit calls to you as parents, only. There are phones that are designed only to call select numbers – mom and dad buttons but nobody else.
  • For older kids who want more freedom, think about whether you want them to receive and make calls to anyone they want. One way to limit open access it to consider family plans that offer number limits.
  • Ask yourself honestly, “do your kids need Internet access or text messaging on their phone?” These extras can not only be costly, but can also open up opportunities to come across things they may not be ready for online. Consider phone plans that exclude or limit these offerings.
  • If you allow your kids to have Internet access on their phone, consider adding a filtering service that blocks inappropriate content.
  • Many phones have cameras. While fun to have, there are risks. Talk to your kid about what is and isn’t appropriate when using their camera phone. Let them know that if they take pictures they’d be embarrassed to show you or their teachers, then the pictures should NOT be taken. Inform them that some pictures could even be illegal (child pornography is a felony, after all). Also, be sure to tell them that if they receive inappropriate images on their phone, they should tell you immediately so you can report it to other parents or teachers, depending on the situation.

If your kid wants a video game console, remember:

  • Keep it in a common area where you can supervise what is on the screen and set usage time limits.
  • Be sure to check recommended age-ratings on the box as a guide to whether a child, kid or teen should be playing certain games. Like movies, video games have age-ratings. Also, the consoles have settings to prevent age-inappropriate games on the device, so be sure to take advantage of those and turn them on!
  • If the game consoles in your home can connect to the Internet, consider either blocking Internet access, or turn on the filtering setting.
  • If your kids are into social networking gaming, again keep it where you can see it. Let your child or teen know that while their use of it is harmless, other players can lie about who they are, their age, gender and where they live. Therefore, you need to remind them to NEVER to meet a stranger in person.

If your kid wants a new computer or any other gadget that connects to the Internet, some tips to remember:

  • If you allow your kids to get online, supervise their online time. Keep the PC, gaming device, or mobile device in a place where you can check in on them and set limits on their time online.
  • Get to know the sites your kids are using or want to use on the Internet. If they are old enough to be using it, ask yourself who else might be using the site.
  • Some sites require registration, which requires personal information. Therefore, it is important to know what the sites your kids are visiting and what each site’s security and privacy policies are.
  • The rules for being a good citizen offline also apply online: Talk to your kids about treating people with respect and the importance of keeping private information private. Remind them not to talk to strangers and that they should always report any odd or suspicious behavior to you, whether online or offline. I’ve found that a great way for us as parents to teach our kids safe online habits is to model these habits ourselves as an example to our children.
    Some of the most reputable security software can help block websites based on kids ages. However, even with filters, kids may still innocently click on or download something they never intended to, such as a virus or spyware. Bottom line: use security software and keep it up-to-date.

Most important, stay involved and stay educated!

Internet safety topics and issues change with new websites and new laws. New issues will continue to grow as new technologies arrive and as kids grow up. Making Internet safety a priority for the family means being an active participant in it.

About The Author

Lynette T. Owens is Director of Corporate Outreach for Trend Micro’s Internet Safety for Kids and Families (ISKF) program. Lynette founded the ISKF program to help deliver on the company’s vision of making a world safe for the exchange of digital information. Ms. Owens is the author of Trend Micro’s ISKF blog, which covers several topics related to Internet safety for kids and families, and is a strong advocate for youth and the importance of their role in helping to educate as much as be educated. In early 2010, she helped launch the company’s first annual Internet safety video competition, named “What’s Your Story?”, showcasing the voice of youth on a wide-range of topics related to their internet safety.

Lynette spends most her time helping to raise awareness and educate the public on the issues of internet safety for kids, recruiting employee volunteers to get involved or volunteering her own time in her community. She devotes the rest of the time to her own kids and husband, and with any remaining minutes, loves to travel with her husband, discover new music, and spend time with friends and family around the world.

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