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Talk With Your Kids About Online Safety

Action Step — Set Basic Rules for Internet Use

Talk with your child before setting up and logging onto his or her new computer. Setting basic rules for Internet access can go a long way toward building a nurturing online environment in your home.

These rules can include when and how often your child may go online, how to keep his or her identity private, not responding to communication that makes them scared, uncomfortable, or confused, talking to a parent or guardian before meeting someone he or she first met online, and respecting the rights of others while online. NetSmartz.org, an interactive, educational safety resource from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), provides safety pledges tailored to a child's age that you can adapt for use with your family.

A fun way to learn safety rules is to visit NetSmartzKids.org. It's a safe Web site loaded with interactive activities, games and music, that teaches the dangers to watch out for online and how to avoid them.

For example, in "Who's Your Friend on the Internet," Nettie and Webster, two NetSmartz characters, introduce children to three mystery guests behind doors on a stage. Two of the voices sound like children. One sounds dangerous. Children are asked to pick which door hides the person who could be their "friend." When all the doors are revealed, children find out that all three voices are the same "WizzyWig" (WizzyWigs are characters representing possible dangers to children online). The activity teaches children that people online may not be who they say they are.

It's also important that you talk with your child about what to do if they find something online that makes them feel scared, uncomfortable, or confused. You don't want your child or teen to hesitate to come to you about something scary or upsetting because they are afraid that you will pull the plug on their Internet privileges.

Instead, says Christine Loftus from NetSmartz Workshop, show children how to turn off the power switch on the monitor if something such as pornography or an instant message upsets them. Shutting off the monitor enables the child to block the image but does not shut off the computer, and enables you to hit the ON button to look at the screen and find out why your child is upset.

"Emphasize that it's not their fault if they see something that makes them feel scared or uncomfortable." If your child does come to you with something disturbing, report it to the proper authorities, such as your Internet service provider or the CyberTipline.

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