Tips to keep children safe online

The chances of being harassed or sexually solicited online increases when young people interact with others via instant messaging and chat rooms. These forums may encourage impulsive and risk-taking behavior. The July 2008 issue of the Harvard Mental Health Letter describes several risky electronic arenas and offers tips to help keep kids safe.

Instant Messaging: This technology enables people to send text messages back and forth instantaneously while using computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices. It appears to put young people at risk for both bullying and sexual solicitation.

Chat rooms: These online forums enable people to exchange text messages, engage in virtual conversations, and post images. Researchers think that chat rooms pose risks for sexual solicitation and victimization not only because these venues enable participants to communicate directly and privately, but also because some sites encourage the use of obscene language and sexual talk.

Social networking sites: Sites such as Facebook or MySpace allow people to create personal profiles and communicate online. Researchers have found these sites are not as risky as other online interactions such as instant messaging and chat rooms.

Dr. Michael Miller, editor in chief of the Harvard Mental Health Letter,suggests that to protect young people online you need to focus on the children's online behavior rather than the technology:

  • Be aware of what children are doing online and to whom they are talking.
  • Keep the computer in a family area.
  • Stay engaged as children get older.
  • Help teenagers learn how to keep themselves safe.

To prevent sexual victimization, educate young people about the dangers of online interactions. You can say that it is all right to have sexual feelings, but not to broadcast them online.

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