Playground rules to online safety

June 17, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Parents have a growing concern about their kids' safety online. Marlene Saritzky, vice president of communications for Common Sense Media, shares some simple guidelines for parents.

June is Internet Safety Month:
Common Sense Media's simple playground rules to online safety.

Remember when keeping your kids safe just meant teaching them the basic playground rules -- don't talk to strangers, be nice, don't stray too far from the group? Well, the online world is just another type of playground, and helping kids stay safe online can be just as simple. Common Sense Media has some easy 'red light/green light' guidelines -- like the old playground game -- for both kids AND parents:

Why Parents Should Care:

- 43% of teens have been cyberbullied

- 55% of teens have some kind of online profile

- 22 percent of all teen girls - and 11 percent of teen girls ages 13-16 years old - say they have electronically sent, or posted online, nude or semi-nude images of themselves.

- 1 in 3 teens is browsing the Web on their phones; 1-5 is visiting a social networking site

- Just like you taught your kids how to swim, drive a car, or safely drive the street, you need to teach your kids how to be safe, smart online citizens, especially because so much of online behavior is happening outside your home.

Quick tips for parents:

Kids:

RED LIGHT! Don't talk to strangers. Don't share personal info with people you don't know

GREEN LIGHT! Play fair. No bullying online or on your cell.

RED LIGHT! Don't share too much. Be careful what you say or post online - it can stay forever.

RED LIGHT! Don't take what doesn't belong to you. Don't copy from Wikipedia or anything else that you didn't create - it's cheating.

GREEN LIGHT! Use common sense. Don't trust everything you read online.

Parents:

RED LIGHT! Don't cover your ears. Get to know your kids' online worlds and learn to use their technology.

GREEN LIGHT! Be a good role model. Parents are still a kid's biggest influence.

GREEN LIGHT! Support good behavior. Encourage your kids to act responsibly online.

To get the conversation going, we have a special Internet Safety Month Web page up, and a downloadable Family Media Agreement that parents can print and sign with their kids to get them started on some simple internet safety and healthy media diet steps.

What are the facts?

· June is Internet Safety Month

· 90% of tweens have used the Internet by the time they're 9 years old

· More than 1 in 5 tweens post information about themselves online, including pictures and how old they are

· 64% of online teens engage in some type of content creation, like blogging

· 55% of online teens have a social networking profile on sites like Facebook or MySpace

Why is it important?

· The internet playground is still a playground, so basic rules apply: be nice, don't talk to strangers, don't take things that don't belong to you.

· Digital ethics - or tips for proper, safe online behavior - are becoming more important, as the Web and technology become more interactive, and more mobile

· Increasingly, online behavior is prosecuted in the offline world - cyberbullying laws on the books in Calif., and other states, punishing digital offenders with suspension or jail time.

· Online behavior also has offline effects. Posting photos/videos and having them seen by the wrong people can cause people to lose jobs, face ridicule in school and more.

· With the advent of mobile technology - smartphones, portable games with internet connections, etc. - kids are no longer in the house going online, right where you can see them. They're going online and communicating almost everywhere.

· Just like parents needed to step in to teach their kids how to ride a bike or to look both ways, they also need to teach their kids how to be safe and smart online consumers.

What can parents do?

· You and your kids can follow the basic playground rules of internet safety! The online world is a world that requires etiquette and basic decency, just like the offline world so don't overthink it - it's very simple.

· Internet Safety Month is a great time to sit down and have a conversation with your kids. Learn what they do online - favorite sites, information they look for, etc.

· Talk about some of the things they see - do they encounter content that makes them uncomfortable? Do they know how to report some of the really bad things they see? Have they been cyberbullied or approached by someone on Facebook or in an online chat who has said something mean or disturbing?

· You want your kids to be comfortable enough to tell you when something bad happens, so talking about these things early will help establish that trust and start some smart, safe online behavior in your kids

Tell Kids and Tweens:

- Don't talk to strangers. Don't share personal info with people you don't know. People often aren't who they say they are online, so be very, very careful. You wouldn't walk up to a total stranger on the street and give him/her your phone number, so don't do it online, either.

- Play fair. No bullying online or on your cell. The anonymity of the Web makes it a lot easier in kids' minds to say something mean or hurtful. A good rule of thumb? If you wouldn't say it to someone's face in person, don't say it online.

- Don't share too much. Be careful what you say or post online - it can stay forever. Deleting a photo from Facebook doesn't make the photo disappear immediately, and who knows who saved it to their own personal computers for later use? Also, this is a great point to bring up privacy settings - make sure older teens know who can see what, and keep this basic rule in mind.

- Don't take what doesn't belong to you. Don't copy from Wikipedia or anything else that you didn't create - it's cheating. Many kids are using Facebook or online chats to do homework. It's a great way for kids to collaborate and learn together, but the same ethical rules apply.

- Use common sense. Don't trust everything you read online. Anyone can create a Web page and post information, or add to an online encyclopedia. Kids need to learn to think critically about what they see online, and use multiple sources - again, just like they would in a traditional school research paper.

Tips for Parents!

· There are some simple rules for parents to follow, as well, to foster a good dialogue with their kids and to be involved in their kids' online lives.

- Don't cover your ears. Get to know your kids' online worlds and learn to use their technology. At Common Sense Media, we encourage families to use media together. It's the best way to maximize all of the benefits of media and have the most fun, while also staying safe and smart.

- Be a good role model. Parents are still a kid's biggest influence, so if you have your own Facebook page, be sure you're following the rules, too.

- Support good behavior. Encourage your kids to act responsibly online. Little reminders, like reminding kids to wash their hands or look both ways, can go a long way.

Tips from Common Sense Media

· Visit www.commonsensemedia.org/internet-safety-month for a list of these rules and to download what we call our Family Media Agreement. The Family Media Agreement is a document that can start a discussion with your kids about what they promise to do to limit their media consumption and make good choices, based on their age.

· Check out all of our video tips and advice pages. Commonsensemedia.org is filled with helpful tips and advice for handling not just basic internet safety, but also social networking, texting, YouTube, video chatting and more. Anything your kids are doing online or on the phone, Common Sense Media can help you learn how to handle it.

· Participate in our online discussions. We've got a really active community at Common Sense, and every week we post in our newsletter a new query about how to handle a particular media dilemma, from friending your kid on Facebook to whether or not sexting should be made illegal. We love it when our community weighs in and shares how they handle a tricky media situation. Register at commonsensemedia.org to join in the conversation, as well as provide your own reviews of movies, games, sites, books, and music.


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