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November 21, 2011

Geek Week: Internet Safety Resources for Parents to Keep Kids Safe Online


Last week I had the opportunity to present at the Family Online Safety Institute’s Annual Conference, a place where lawmakers, companies, educators, and non-profits come together to discuss issues relating to keeping kids safe online. One of the topics that came up, not only on the panel that I spoke on, but was a common thread throughout the conference was about whose role it is to teach online safety.  Like most parents, I spend my days relying on technology to stay connected with my friends, colleagues, and family and feel that part of parenting is to arm my kids with the ability to make good choices about on and offline behavior.

I keep hearing about the great need for parent education regarding social networking, social media, and the general need for tips on how to keep kids safe online.  Whether you have jumped in to the world of social media or are just getting your feet wet into social networking tools like Facebook, Linked In, Twitter, and FourSquare, do you consider yourself knowledgeable enough to have a conversation with your kids about the risks and rewards of the internet? If you have had family conversations about online boundaries for your kids, have other parents you know done the same in their households. I hate to be Debbie Downer, but the seedy side of the internet is still out there. The tools that were once invented for the intent of connecting people in a positive way, can also have a dangerous side if you aren’t knowledgeable about the advantages and disadvantages of using such tools.

If you are wondering you might keep your kids safe in an online world that changes rapidly, there are many resources available to help you stay knowledgeable about the tools your kids are using. Such resources can help you stay on top of the current issues like the 6 things you need to know about cyberbullying, how to start a conversation about hard-to-talk about topics like grooming (and we aren’t talking about personal hygiene!), what information should and shouldn’t be posted on Facebook, and the dangers of sexting.

Here are 3 of my favorite resources that help me stay on top of all the issues regarding internet safety:

Yahoo Safely- With distinct resources and links for teens and parents thanks to separate tabs at the top of the page along with informative content from safety experts like ConnectSafely and WiredSafety, this comprehensive site has the power to turn you into an internet safety expert. Take a look at the introduction to online safety, read expert opinions on topics through the Expert Blogs, and make a family pledge for online safety.

MTV’s A Thin Line- If you are having trouble getting through to your kid and need to harness the power of the media, MTV’s A Thin Line is a public service campaign designed to to help teens "identify, respond to, and stop the spread of digital abuse in your life and amongst your peers." MTV designed the campaign to make teens and tweens aware of the fact that "there's a "thin line" between what may begin as a harmless joke and something that could end up having a serious impact on you or someone else." Have your kids take the online quiz on the A Thin Line homepage, get facts about topics like sexting, constant texting, digital stalking, and digital disrepect, and watch MTV produced videos that contain powerful messages. If you can’t get through to your kids, hopefully MTV can!

Common Sense Media- This non-profit is dedicated to helping “parents, educators, and young people make better decisions about the media and entertainment in their lives.” Through their resources, Common Sense aims to provide trustworthy information for families to make their own educated choices about all media that consumed in their home. I love that they provide the real deal on social networking. A quick glance at the home page for social networking tools allows me to view how the site were rated and the age the site is most appropriate for. I can mouse over the screenshot to get a 1 paragraph description or click to read a more in depth interview about the good, bad, and the ugly.

Here are 4 free tools that can help you keep your family safe whether on social networking sites, gaming, or using a mobile device:

Safely— Having taken a look at different Facebook monitoring tools, Safely is still a favorite because of the free easy to use dashboard that provides a ton of information.  One screen reports and weekly emails can be viewed at a glance to keep you updated about your child’s Facebook activity.  For more information, read my full review of Safely and sign up for a free account.

AT&T Smart Controls serve as an all-in-one destination for AT&T users to get information and tools to manage content, spending, safety, time and location for your mobile phone, computer and TV in order to take control of the technology in your life quickly and easily.

Google Dashboard allows you to go to one place to control all of your account settings.

Microsoft Safety & Security Center has basic lessons for teaching kids online security basics, helping kids use social media websites more safely, and information about how to activate family safety and privacy settings for Xbox and Kinect.

In addition to tools, apps, and services, it’s also important to check in with your kids and create conversations about the things occurring online and off to establish lines of communication that will make it easier for them to come to you if and when they encounter a problem.

Today’s post is written by Leticia Barr, the founder of TechSavvyMama.com and a DC Metro area dwelling mom of two elementary aged children with a background in classroom technology integration and school administration who uses everything she learned from teaching children, teachers, and principals as a professional blogger, freelance writer and social media strategist. Leticia often advises companies who are looking to keep kids safe online so today she’s sharing her favorite resources that assist parents in staying half a step ahead of their kids.



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