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Internet safety is a concern for everyone, but especially for parents with young children. In the U.S.A., 62 million households, or about 55 percent of homes, had an internet-connected computer as of 2003. That number is probably even higher today. Approximately 76 percent of school aged children are believed to have access to a home computer and 83 percent use a computer at school. Obviously, there are tremendous educational benefits for children using a computer, but it also opens them up to many dangers as well. The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) is a federal law that was created to help protect children online. COPPA was specifically designed to keep anyone from obtaining a child's personal information.

There are some things a parent can do to help ensure their children’s safety using the internet. Communication and education are the best safety tools. First of all - talk to your child. Remind them not to respond to emails from anyone they don’t know. If they do open an offensive or dangerous-sounding email or other communications, report it to local law enforcement. DO NOT DELETE the offensive email, however, before reporting it to the police. It is very important to tell your children to never, ever, under any circumstances, meet with anyone in person that they’ve “met” online. You may want to also talk with your children about house rules for using the computer, and post those rules near the monitor. Your online service provider may also offer safeguarding programs or options that include monitoring or filtering capabilities for the computer. If they don’t offer it, filtering software is available, so check with your local computer stores or shop for it online.

Know what websites your children are visiting and read those web site’s privacy policies. Children’s web sites are not permitted to request personal information without a parent’s consent. However, be sure to tell your child what personal information should never be given online, such as their home address, phone numbers, name or location of their school. Internet accounts should be in the parent’s name, and they should control the passwords and use their names for the primary screen name. Being open and honest and keeping the lines of communication open with your child about the computer and internet safety is key. Let them know they should tell a trusted adult if they see anything online that upsets them, makes them feel uncomfortable or scared.

Despite all of your precautions, if you suspect your child might be at risk online, there are some signs to look for:
Your child is spending more time than usual online, and especially at night and the weekends. Sex offenders are online at all different times, but many work during the day, so they are online more in the evening hours and weekends.

Your child may be spending lots of time in chat rooms. Monitor them and ask your child about what they’re looking at online.

Your child receives phone calls from someone you don’t know or from numbers you don’t recognize, or long distance phone calls. Most sex offenders want to talk to the child on the telephone. They may give out their phone number first in an attempt to get the child to call them. With caller ID, they can then easily find out the child‘s phone number. They may tell the child to call them collect, if they live far away.

Another sign is if your child turns the computer monitor or quickly changes the screen when you walk into the room.

Your child may become withdrawn from the rest of the family.

Communicate with your children. Talk to them about the potential dangers online. Spend time with them online and have them show you their favorite websites. Keep the computer in a common room in the house. It is never a good idea to let a child keep a computer in their bedroom.

Computers are the way of the world today and they are educational, entertaining, and convenient. Internet safety is not meant to frighten parents or their children, but as with everything, one must be aware of the dangers that come with using a computer. Again, communication with your child and education about the internet is the best protection in the world against those who may prey on them.


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