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National Child Safety Expert, Alison Rhodes, “The Safety Mom,” is one of the country's leading child safety authorities, providing tips and advice to parents on a broad range of issues facing all children - newborns to teens.

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Protecting Your Child from Online Dangers
by Alison Rhodes

The use of the Internet as a research tool is now starting at a very young age. My second-grade son was asked to select an animal and research information about it online. I'm sure there are many other schools that are starting children online in kindergarten and first grade. And while it's a wonderful tool, the Internet can also be an extremely dangerous place for children.

Unfortunately, children lack the critical thinking skills to be able to determine if someone is trying to glean information from them or is genuinely interested in becoming a cyber pal. Even adults have been victimized by con artists over the Internet and have been persuaded to divulge personal information, credit card information, or send money for some scheme. Imagine how easy it is for a 9- or 10-year-old to be victimized! Children have access to pornographic sites, sites promoting violence against a specific race or religion, and most importantly, chat rooms where sexual predators are lurking.

Monitoring and filtering software isn't enough to protect your kids. They will have computer access in numerous places besides your home, and many kids can break the software very easily. The number-one protection is parental supervision. Computers belong in a family room, not a bedroom. Children should be online within your view and with the understanding that you can come over and join them at any time. Take the time to sit with them and visit the sites they're viewing. Let them show you what they can do - I'm sure you'll definitely learn a thing or two!

When you establish an Internet account, it should always be set up in your name, and when your child sets up a user name, it should be nondescript and not give any indication of his or her age. Create "rules of engagement" for computer use that include when they are allowed to use it, what sites they are allowed to visit, and what friends and family members they are allowed to chat with. They should agree that they will never give out any personal information, including what town they live in, where they go to school, names of their friends, where they shop, who they babysit for, and especially their own name, address, age, or phone number. They must also promise they will never meet anyone in person that they have met online and that they will never respond to an offensive or threatening email.

Identify all of the other locations your child might be using a computer, including school, the library, and friends' homes. Make a call to their friends' parents to find out what rules they have in place regarding computer usage and if their child has a computer in his or her bedroom. Find out from the library and school what their Internet policies are as well.

Visit some sites dedicated to online safety such as safekids.com and netsmartz.com to get some more tips on helping keep kids safe online. Above all, keep talking to your kids. While they might not seem to want to listen, an involved parent is the best defense in keeping kids safe.

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