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  • Staying cyber-safe

    Tips for keeping track of your kids' online travels
  • Just when parents seem to settle on a system for keeping tabs on their kids, a new technology is unveiled or old ones become more complex.
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    • According to the Crimes Against Children Research Center, one in five U.S. teens who regularly use the Internet have received an unwanted sexual solicitation via the Web.

      Signs a child has b...
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      According to the Crimes Against Children Research Center, one in five U.S. teens who regularly use the Internet have received an unwanted sexual solicitation via the Web.

      Signs a child has been contacted by an online predator include:

      • becoming withdrawn and isolated from family and friends

      • inappropriate material found on a computer

      • a child or teen receives mail, money or gifts from unknown people

      • unknown phone numbers show up when reviewing the phone bill

      On the Web:

      www.webwisekids.org, a nonprofit organization geared toward promoting responsible use of the Internet and cellphones.

      www.netsmartz.org offers tips for parents to keep kids safe online and with cellphones
  • Just when parents seem to settle on a system for keeping tabs on their kids, a new technology is unveiled or old ones become more complex.
    Just a generation after Atari and cassette players, kids today communicate via Facebook, Twitter and Skype. Even newer versions of the iPod, the music player of choice for most kids, can be used for video chat, Web browsing and phone calls.
    Southern Oregon High Tech Crimes Unit Lt. Josh Moulin says it's harder than ever for parents to keep track of what kids are doing and with whom they're communicating.
    According to Netsmartz.org, 93 percent of teens (age 12 to 17) are online, and 75 percent have cellphones. A third of teens have been cyberbullied, and one in five teens say they have received sexual solicitations online.
    "Parents have to be really careful when they give their kids certain devices. It's overwhelming the amount of technology that's out there, and kids need to learn to be careful with personal information and who they interact with," says Moulin.
    "We've seen cases of children as young as 10 years old taking nude pictures of themselves and sending them to friends or people they think are the same age as they are who end up being an online predator."
    Moulin and others offer some insight on ways to keep kids safe despite access provided by computers, phones and other gadgets.
    PHONES
    With so many smartphones on the market, kids have access to the Internet and 50 or more of their closest friends at the push of a button.
    If there's a bright side to such easy access to technology, says Scott Charlston, public relations manager for Verizon's Pacific Northwest region, it's that most cellular providers offer services that locate family members (via Global Positioning System data), restrict phone usage and limit questionable Internet content.
    "It's really important that parents are keeping track of what their kids are doing," says Charlston. "With so many smartphones, the kids basically have a cellphone and computer in one."
    "There are ways to make it so kids can't text between midnight and 6 a.m. or whenever you don't want them to, and to know that they ended up where they said they were going. We'd really like to see more parents taking advantage of what's available in terms of keeping their kids safe."
    Moulin recommends the use of restricted phones for kids too young to understand safety risks. When shopping for phones, check available safety features and consider whether kids need text or camera features.
    "If you want them to have a phone for safety reasons, there are phones available that only receive and dial certain phone numbers: Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa and 9-1-1," says Moulin.
    "Those are nice because you don't have to worry about them texting or receiving phone calls you don't want them to."
    ONLINE
    With social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, parents should abide by age limitations, which range from 13 to 18, set by the loosely monitored sites.
    Software abounds to filter questionable content and limit certain websites. But David Hand, president of Computer Country Internet Services of Medford, says nothing with a microchip can replace good, old-fashioned parental supervision.
    "As a parent myself, the way we did it, the Internet was on a machine in the middle of the room and no one was allowed to ever clear the history. If the history was ever cleared, the computer was no longer available," says Hand.
    "No one keeps a loaded gun behind their kid's door, but it's not much different than allowing access to the Internet, then not paying attention to what they're doing."
    Other advice he offers for social-networking sites: Parents should approve anyone added to "friends" lists and have a child's login information.
    For obvious reasons, teach kids not to "tweet" or "status post" when the whole family will be out of town, leaving the house unattended, and make sure they never put identifying information online.
    Remind kids that information posted online can be shared, including personal comments, cellphone numbers and online passwords. Talk to your child about the possible consequences of sending sexually explicit or provocative images or text messages. If parents plan for the worst, they'll have a plan in place when something happens.
    IPODS AND OTHER GADGETS
    Parents need to become familiar with modern technologies, including smartphones and social-networking sites, before allowing kids to use them. With thousands of apps on the market, kids can use sites like Skype and Facebook to search and post information online.
    "Even iPods can be used as a telephone," says Moulin.
    "It's amazing how many ways kids can get online and share information. If parents are going to keep their kids safe, they've got to pay attention."
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