Children are growing up in a digital age and spend a great deal of their time online - social media, instant messaging, researching and shopping. And, while these are all great tools, they need to be used wisely. Children are being targeted by online predators at an alarming rate, so it is critical for adults to help them learn how to protect themselves while still enjoying all of the benefits of the Internet. Below are tips offered by Crimes Against Children Research Center:
- Be smart about what you post on the Internet and what you say to others. The web is a lot more public and permanent than it seems.
- Provocative and sexual names and pictures can draw attention from people you don't want in your life.
- Pictures of a sexual nature can get you into trouble with the law. If you are underage, they may be considered child pornography, a serious crime.
- Be careful what you download or look at, even for a laugh. Some of the images on the Internet are extreme, and you can't "unsee" something.
- Going to sex chat rooms and other sex sites may connect you with people who can harass you in ways you don't anticipate.
- Free downloads and file-sharing can put pornography on your computer that you may not want and can be hard to get rid of. Any pornography that shows children or teens under 18 is illegal child pornography and can get you in big trouble.
- Adults who talk to you about sex online are committing a crime. So are adults who meet underage teens for sex. Some teens think it might be fun, harmless or romantic, but it means serious trouble for everyone. It's best to report it.
- Don't play along with people on the Web who are acting badly, taking risks and being weird. Even if you think it's harmless and feel like you can handle it, it only encourages them and may endanger other young people.
- Report it when other people are acting weird and inappropriately or harassing you or others. It's less trouble just to log off, but these people may be dangerous. Save the communication. Contact the site management, your service provider, the CyberTipline or even the police.
- Don't let friends influence your better judgment. If you are surfing with other kids, don't let them pressure you to do things you ordinarily wouldn't.
- Be careful if you ever go to meet someone you have gotten to know through the internet. You may think you know them well, but they may fool you. Go with a friend. Tell your parents. Meet in a public place. Make sure you have your cell phone and an exit plan.
- Don't harass others. People may retaliate in ways you don't expect.
- You can overestimate your ability to handle things. It may feel like you are careful, savvy, aware of dangers, and able to manage the risks you take, but there are always unknowns. Don't risk disasters.
- For parents, check the privacy settings on your children's social media accounts.
- Helpful guidelines for Instagram can be found here.
- Helpful guidelines for Facebook can be found here.