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Protecting your kids from online dangers

From Disney to Facebook, the ever-increasing presence of technology and social media in children's lives has prompted concern from parents and educators alike. No matter where you go, kids always seems to be attached to some form of technology, whether it be an iPad, smartphone, or even Wi-Fi enabled video game systems. In some ways, it's almost as if the newest generations are born with an innate sense of everything technology. Case in point: give a 5-year-old an iPhone and watch them go to town.

Easy access to the Internet does have its advantages. It can be used to strengthen connections with family and friends, to collaborate on school projects or for research on assigned work, and to communicate with coaches and teachers. It can even help kids who don't quite "fit in" nurture their identity and unique social skills. However, even the most well-intentioned Google search can produce dozens of inappropriate results. Follow these tips for safe technology use in your home.

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• Immerse yourself. Know how to create a profile, "friend" your child, and be a part of his online life. He may insist that you don't embarrass him by posting comments his friends can see — and it's OK if you honor his wishes — but at least you still get a window into his world.

• Chat him up. Don't rely solely on a "net nanny" software program to keep your kid from questionable sites. Talk with your child about his social media experiences. Be sure to discuss the benefits and dangers of the Internet with your kids.

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• Go public. Keep the computer centrally located in the family room or kitchen.

• Be kind. Discourage meanness, gossiping, and posting anything that's untrue or potentially harmful. This is a good practice to teach your children offline as well. Your kids will most likely model your online behavior; demonstrate good Internet citizenship and they will too.

• Set boundaries. The next step is to let them know the rules in the house for online use. An Internet use contract can be downloaded and printed; you and your children can read it and sign it so there are no misunderstandings of appropriate use in your home. Post them near the family computer as a reminder. Ensure that your kids know to never share personal information on the Internet and that they should tell you about any online activity or contact that makes them uncomfortable.

• Become a net-savvy parent. The best safeguard against online dangers is being informed. Jump in and learn the basics of the Internet — read articles, take a class and talk to other parents. A good place to start with some basics is http://www.LearnTheNet.com. A good place to stay current with the latest in online technology is mashable.com. You don't have to be an expert to have a handle on your child's online world.

• Protect your computer. Take advantage of the software that exists to help parents manage their children's computer experience. In only a few minutes, parental control software can block inappropriate websites, restrict the amount of time that your kids use the Internet and monitor their Instant Messenger chats to protect against predators. In addition, be sure to regularly review privacy and security settings — many include some type of parental controls — on social media pages, photo sharing programs, forums, applications, etc.

• Explore the Internet as a family. With a game plan and a protected computer, you can now encourage your family to take advantage of all that the Internet has to offer. Provide younger children with a list of approved websites and post it near the family PC.

• It's not personal. Instruct kids not to post any personal information, such as addresses, passwords, email addresses or mobile numbers, online. Cyber criminals can use this information to commit a number of crimes ranging in severity. Also tell them not to befriend anyone they don't know.

• Report suspicious activity. Instruct kids never to meet up with people they've met online. Remember that not everyone online is who they say they are.

Danielle Moser is a Reisterstown resident and can be reached via email at threepeasconsignments@gmail.com.

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