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Worried about your kids' safety online? You should be

August 7, 2011 | 12:24 pm


It's not just the online predators that parents needs to worry about these days. Or cyber-bullying. Or texting too much, or, even -- gulp! -- sexting. Perhaps a more immediate worry is that kids need to know that what they put online is forever. And that's a hard lesson to instill in someone who might still needs to be reminded to brush his teeth before going to bed.

But parents were urged to take that worry and channel it into action this week at the BlogHer convention in San Diego for 3,500 members and users of the publishing platform that logs 25 million unique visits each month.

Many parents are reluctant to monitor their kids online, according to a Verizon survey of its customers. "Some of the parents said it was because they were uncomfortable and felt it was invading children's privacy, like reading a diary," said Carrie Jacobsen of Verizon, who specializes in responsible use of wireless products.

Well, parents, get over it.

"With the Internet it's easier to hide things, but you have a right as a parent to go out and find what it is," she said. The panel offered up several tips and suggestions, listed after the jump: 

--Become as digitally savvy as your kids and monitor what they are doing online. If you don't know how to do that, learn. Find online video tutorials. Find online groups made up of security-minded parents that can help. And if you are just hapless with anything digital, find a trusted relative or friend who can do it for you. (Friend your kid on Facebook. Or get someone else you trust to friend your kid on Facebook.)

--Know what your cellphone and other electronic devices can do -- and how to turn it all off. Jacobsen told those in attendance that she was surprised to learn about a cool feature on her smartphone: a GPS locator that works with the phone's digital camera. When enabled, it allows a photo to be uploaded to the Internet with tagging information about where it was taken. That might be good for a travel blogger, but parents might not want their kids' exact location broadcast to the world. (How to fix? Go into the phone's camera settings and disable the GPS function.) 

--Find ways to make the technology work for you, and stay abreast of news about emerging technologies that can help. Just one example: Verizon has a "family locator" service that allows parents to "geo-fence" their kids and know when they get home after school, for instance, or what park they are playing in. You get a message saying, "Your child is 'here' or 'there,' " Jacobsen said.

--If you're concerned about the amount of time your kid spends texting, you can control that too. Use your cellphone plan to limit the timeframe in which your child can text. (Like, not after midnight or during school hours.)  

--Put the computer in the family room. Who cares what it does to the decor? It allows you to keep one eye on dinner and one eye on the computer screen.

--Make sure your kids understand the consequence of their actions, and teach them the "permanence of their actions online. They don't get that when you send a text it can be forwarded to hundreds of people or a video seen by millions and there's no way to take that action back. And that's a hard thing to grasp at that early age," one of the panelists said. Jacobsen offered up one way to have that conversation, courtesy of a friend whose daughter was being courted by her first boyfriend. "The way she approached it with her daughter is, 'I want you to have the opportunity to be the president of the United States if you want to be. And if you do something and it gets on the Internet, that could stop you from realizing that dream, if that's your dream. So just remember that what you put out there is not just for today, it's your life.' "


Read the full panel transcript from BlogHer

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-- Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch

Photo: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times