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Protect Your Kids Safety, Privacy Online

Kids are constantly connected to technology, giving them access to limitless knowledge, communication and entertainment, but with that comes a safety concern. When kids have the world at their fingertips, how do we keep them safe?

Tell your kids the internet rules in your house

Ruby Gonzalez, the communications director at NordVPN, an online privacy tool, suggests: “Parents should clearly establish how many hours their children are allowed on the computer per day. Moreover, computer usage at night shouldn’t be permitted; it interferes with sleep quality and affects the physical development of a child, especially at an early age.”From the time kids start using the internet, it’s important to establish proper communication and rules. Keep a “family computer” in a central area and let children have the privilege of having a personal computer when they’ve earned it. Consider using computer time as a reward for doing homework, or chores around the house.

Discourage your children from accepting friend requests from people they don’t know. Stress that electronic communication is always risky and that you can never be sure who’s on the other side of the screen. Keep tabs on who your kids interact with online and encourage them to talk with you about their online friends. If they are voice or video chatting, introduce yourself to the other person. “It’s every parent’s responsibility to know who their kids’ online friends are,” says Eirene Heidelberger, president and CEO of GIT Mom, a parent coaching company.

Lock down social media privacy settings

The most popular platforms include Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter. Ask your kids what platforms they use and learn about them. Learn how these sites use your child’s information to advertise to them. Within Facebook, you can turn off targeted ads in the settings tab under ads. You can also manage privacy settings so your children can’t easily be contacted by strangers. When it comes to social media, Gonzalez notes, “Educate yourself about the various social websites and apps: what they do, what kind of information users share, and what makes them interesting to children.” (See Privacy Resources, for suggested websites.)

“Keep your child’s account private so only friends can see it, don’t allow your child to be tagged in posts and advise him to not share his location,” says Kevin Ellis, marketing director at eBlocker, a privacy and parental-control tool.

You can set these limits under each platform’s privacy section. Facebook also has a blocking option where you can block individual users or posts, messages, apps, event invitations and pages from specific people and organizations.

Gonzalez also says to discuss with your child what she should not share on social media. Emphasize what goes on the internet can be shared so quickly that it stays there forever, so precisely define what kind of personal information is and isn’t OK to share, such as full name, address or school.

Report cyberbullying

Encourage your child to come to you immediately if something posted online makes her uncomfortable.  “Have your children know what’s safe and insist on reporting any bullying as soon as it occurs,” Ellis says. Don’t get angry; show her how to handle the situation, then go through the appropriate channels, such as your school, to report the cyberbullying.

'Stay in their face, but give them their space'

“The best thing parents could do for their children in order to protect them from possible harm is to start a discussion about online safety at an early age,” Gonzalez says. The sooner you get involved as a parent, the easier it is to make sure good habits are established. Without guidance, kids can quickly find themselves in unsafe communities.From viruses to misinformation to strangers, there are threats galore online. Keeping your children away from them requires a watchful eye and an open dialogue.

Overall, it’s important to strike a balance of respecting your child’s privacy while keeping her safe. Maintain open communication, and make sure to be involved. “Stay in their face but give them their space,” says Heidelberger.

Susan Braverman is marketing coordinator for MetroKids.

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