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Safety Tips for Children Online

In the original days of the internet, only geeky techies could figure out how to gain access to the system. There was little concern about security for youngsters, since the likelyhood of a youngster gaining access to a site or system was slim.

In modern times, however, it seems like every toddler learns how to push buttons on a keyboard at the same time as they are transitioning from liquid food to solid. At a recent town hall held by Symantec, featuring Miss America 2007 Lauren Nelson, this was made very clear. Almost all of the teenagers present felt that they knew far more about the internet - and how to use their computer - than their parents and guardians did.

While children may possess the skills to find videos on YouTube and create pages on MySpace, they rarely are given the training or support to learn how to handle cyber bullying, avoid internet predators, and to maintain their own privacy properly on the web. These are critical issues for every parent - and indeed for every user of the internet - to know and understand.

It's easy to become lulled into a sense of comfort when you are posting in a forum or participating in a chat. If you love cats, and you are on a forum full of cat lovers, it can seem natural to share your full name, your city and state, and more details. However, it is important to remember that no matter how friendly the people you are talking with seem, there are always other people listening and taking notes. Any information you provide which can lead to you personally can result in identity theft, stalking or other serious issues. It is safest to use a pseudonym on any site that you enter information into. Provide an email address which does not contain both your first and last name as a part of the name. Many people use their real first name, but ensure they do not give out their last name or city. While the chances of someone finding you with just your first name are slim to none, once they have your full name, city and state, it is a simple matter of a search in an online directory to track down your exact address and phone number.

If you ever realize you have posted more information than you meant to on a website, take steps quickly to undo the damage. Delete the post or talk with the owner of the site to get the information removed. If your email address provides too much information (for example look into getting another one which is more anonymous. There are many websites which provide free email access, and in many cases you can forward the new anonymous address so you still get it at your regular address.

During the town hall, the teenagers were asked if they had ever witnessed or heard of a case of cyber bullying. Most of the teens had. It is an unfortunate part of internet life that many people end up saying things they would never say in real life. The shield of anonymity, or maybe even the fact that they are typing words from a distance instead of saying them in person, allows people to say hurtful and cruel things that they would normally not say. If someone is awake at 3am and feeling very cranky, instead of going to sleep, they might release their fury in an unwarranted attack on another person.

Cyber bullies should be reported. Their activities are no less harmful than in person bullies. Forum posts which are overly harsh in nature should be reported to a forum moderator. If the bullying continues, you can talk with your local police department about steps to take to bring it to an end.

There have always been bad people in the world. The internet simply means that those bad people can more easily canvas large groups of people looking for a victim, rather thank lurking in a dark alley and hoping a victim comes to them. Internet predators try to build up a false sense of friendship and affection in order to get inappropriate photos and contact from their victims.

Lauren Nelson, Miss America 2007, spoke at the Town Hall in New York City about how she herself was a victim of an internet predator. She was thirteen years old when she and her friend participated in a chat room. They were lured into giving out personal information about themselves, and the next thing they knew, a much older man was sending them obscene emails. They promptly reported the situation to their parents. While it is important to put the concern into perspective - there are currently 1.2 BILLION people on the internet and only a tiny percentage of them are seeking to harm others - it is still wise to take basic precautions. Just as you would not walk through a dark, unlit alley in New York City at 2am by yourself, you should never give personal information out to a person you meet on the web. To review, that information includes:

* Your full name
* Your city and state
* Your address or phone number
* your school name (a school immediately identifies a city and state)

Symantec has created several websites which can help you learn more about how to stay safe on the internet. These include:
Norton Family Center Resource

The key is to read this information and to take the steps now to keep you and your family safe. Just like you should keep a smoke detector in your home, and wear seatbelts in your car, you should keep your internet connection protected and safe, and learn how to use it wisely.

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