NEWARK—The Internet is a fun-filled and educational place for children and teens, but potential risks to their privacy and safety are prevalent. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) cautions parents that while surfing the Web, children may stumble upon disturbing information or images, or they may innocently accept files that could expose the family to Internet thieves or computer viruses. They may also encounter cyberbullies or worse, child predators using the Internet to befriend vulnerable children.
“Being aware of the risks, speaking with your children about those dangers, and monitoring their online behavior are the most important things you can do to keep your family safer,” says Nwando Anyaoku, M.D., MPH, Division Chief and Director of Pediatric Ambulatory Services at Children’s Hospital of New Jersey at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center. “Older children and teens are likely to use computers outside home, so parents need to be sure kids understand the dangers and practice basic safety rules.”
The following are safety tips from The Pediatric Health Center at Children’s Hospital of New Jersey (CHNJ) and the AAP:
For children and teens:
- Keep identity private, don’t share personal information.
- Never get together with someone you “meet” online.
- Talk to a parent if you are uncomfortable or frightened by an online interaction.
- If you feel uncomfortable because of an interaction, don’t respond.
- Never send any message you would not want to say face-to-face.
- Everything sent over the Internet or a cell phone can be shared with the entire world, so it is important to use good judgment in sending messages and pictures.
- Learn first hand about social networking sites like Facebook. There is no better way to monitor activity than to have a profile yourself. Have a policy requiring that you and your child “friend” each other. This is one way of showing your child you are there, too, and will provide a check and balance system.
- For kids of all ages, ask daily: “Have you used the computer and the Internet today?” “What did you write on Facebook today?” “Any new chats recently?”
- Keep the computer in a public part of your home, such as the kitchen, so that you can monitor what your kids do online and how much time they spend there.
- Check chats, emails and social networking profiles for inappropriate content, friends, and images periodically.
- Consider formal monitoring systems to track your child’s computer use.
- Set time limits for Internet use. Learn the warning signs of trouble: skipping activities, meals and homework to stay online; weight loss or gain; a drop in grades. If these issues are occurring due to your child being online when he/she should be eating, sleeping, participating in school or social activities, your child may have a problem with Internet addiction. Contact your pediatrician for advice if any of these symptoms are occurring.
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