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Digital Age Safe Parenting

      While so much new technology is geared towards making your life easier, it seems like it has never been harder to keep up with all the gadgets and gizmos. Chances are, last time you tried to figure out a new function on your phone it was your child who showed you how.

      But seeking out your child every time you need to open a text message is not only inconvenient, it’s also dangerous. There is a gap between their understanding of technology and yours that can be exploited by predators. Convicted sexual predators roam the most popular websites for kids, and X-rated images are only a click away.

      It’s more important than ever to keep up with the latest technology. With proper knowledge, you can monitor your child’s use of new devices and teach him or her to how to operate them safely.
The four main areas of safety for parents of the Digital Age are:
  • Sexual Predators
  • Social Networking Sites
  • E-mails, IMs, and Chat Rooms
  • Cell Phones
Sexual Predators
      Computers have proved useful for many of today’s families. Parents can remind children of chores or upcoming appointments in a quick e-mail. But the same technology that makes it easier for parents to contact their children also makes it easier for others to do the same.

      In 2007, the New Jersey attorney general reported that 141 convicted sex offenders in the state were registered users of a popular social networking site. Sexual predators lurk on the same sites as your kids; they target young, vulnerable users and attempt to lure them into destructive relationships. And this can happen in the seeming safety of your own living room.
The most important ways to protect your children online are:

1) Speak with children about the dangers of talking to strangers online.
2) Encourage children to be open about what they do on the Internet.
3) Keep computers in the family room and set boundaries on the amount of time they can spend online.
Social Networking Sites
      MySpace, Facebook, and Hi5 are all popular social networking sites many use to make new friends or reconnect with old ones. Unfortunately not everyone goes to these sites with such innocent intentions.

      Social networking sites are not only common destination for sexual predators, but can also be used as a continuation of schoolyard bullying.

      Sometimes children die, like 13 year old Megan Meier, who committed suicide after being harassed for over a month by a supposed friend on MySpace. The “friend” turned out to be a neighbor’s mother posing as a young boy.

      How can you protect your children from the kinds of sexual predation and psychological torture these sites can inadvertently enable?

      It takes a one-two punch. Websites such as MySpace are now developing technology to verify the ages and identities of their users. But parents still must take their own precautions. Here are some considerations on which the experts agree:
1) Follow the website’s age appropriate recommendations.
2) Make certain that the social network’s profile setting are on high.
3) Talk to your child about keeping personal information like their name, school name, and pictures non-identifying. Share the responsibility with them at an age appropriate level so they understand what’s going on.
E-mails, IMs, and Chat Rooms
      E-mails, instant messages (IMs), and chat rooms let kids keep talking long after the last school bell rings. But they’re not the only ones chatting. They can also be contacted by complete strangers who use the internet to victimize young users.

      Predators will often seek out children in public chat rooms and then try to initiate contact through instant messages. This method provides private, one-on-one conversation. First, predators win your child’s trust. Then they use manipulative tactics to further their own sick agenda.

      And it all can happen fast.

      The Attorney General of Pennsylvania recently reported a sexual predator that sent pornographic images to a young girl within mere minutes of meeting her online.

      You need to take matters into your own hands in order to guard against sexual offenders who prey on your child’s innocence. Here are the most important thing your can do to protect your child when it comes to e-mail, IM, and chat rooms:
1) Help preteens / teenagers choose screen names that don’t provide identifying information.
2) Don’t let younger children use chat rooms. It’s simply not appropriate. When they do teach safety skills.
3) Be aware of what chat rooms your preteen / teenager uses and visit them yourself to ensure they are safe.
Cell Phones
      Many parents buy their children cell phones so they can call if their car breaks down or if something happens at school. But the cell phones parents buy to keep kids safe might actually end up getting them in trouble.

      The cell phones of a number of junior high school students in Texas were confiscated after administration found that sexually explicit pictures of two female students had been circulating through the student body via cellular picture message.

      Improper cell phone use can do more than hurt your child’s reputation, it can also be harmful to your wallet and your family time. Many young cell phone users constantly text or call their friends; the bill increases while the amount of time a child spends with his or her family decreases.

      And while it’s extremely troubling to think of X-rated images being passed along by school kids, it’s even worse to think of whose hands these pictures could eventually get into. Foolish actions on a child’s part could lead him or her into danger that travels far beyond the gossip of school corridors.
Here are some measures you can take to ensure the safety of your child and their phone use:

1) Know the phone yourself. There is simply no substitute for understanding how to use it.
    Remember that most phones also have Internet connections now-a-days.
2) Monitor the cell phone bill for unusual activity.
3) If you are particularly concerned, there are option for monitoring software.
Parental Power
      While advanced technology makes many aspects of daily life more efficient, it also brings with it serious threats you never had to face in childhood. But by staying informed, you’re in the best position to protect your children from the dangers of our Digital Age.

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