5 Tips for Keeping Your Kids Safe Online

Girls Scouts' Web site helps teens take control of their online safety.

ByABC News via logo
February 24, 2009, 4:32 AM

— -- Girl Scouts of America and Microsoft Corporation teamed up to create a new Web site that empowers girls to take control of their own online safety and help them educate their parents.

The Web site includes videos, quizzes, forums and articles about topics like cyberbullying and online sexual predators.

To find out more about the project go tolmk.girlscouts.org.

For the majority of teens and tweens, networking online isn't just a game, it's a necessity. But parents worry their children don't fully grasp the ramifications of posting personal information online.

There are ways to protect your child. Cybersecurity expert Parry Aftab, who is also the executive director of wiredsafety.org, tells you the five things your child needs to know to keep safe on sites like Myspace and Facebook.

The first thing parents should do is find their child's profile, according to Aftab. Many kids have more than one online profile, so you have to find out how many your child has and where they are. You are entitled to know and the best way to find out is by asking your kids, she said.

You don't want a confrontation. You just want to make sure your kids are safe. Giving them a day to clean up their profile will allow them to cleanse it if they have information or pictures posted that tell too much about themselves, she said.

You need to understand why your child has a profile. Once you know why your child is on the site, you can make sure they're only giving the information they need to, Aftab said.

If it's to communicate with kids from camp, then there's no need for them to post information about where they live, or anything that a predator could use to find them, she said. If it's to advertise a band or a cause, then your children may have to give out more information, but they can keep the information specific to their goals.

According to Aftab, knowing why your child is interacting online will help you guide them and make sure they're not taking unnecessary risks.

Don't let your child post anything publicly that parents, principals, predators or the police shouldn't see," she said. Everyone is looking. And what you post on the Internet stays there forever.

Let your children know that it may affect whether they get into college or get a job, she said. It's amazing how many pictures there are of children showing themselves drunk or doing drugs or at a party when they were supposed to be at home because they had a big game the next day or a curfew, Aftab said.

Make sure your children use the most restrictive privacy settings available on the social networking site where they have a personal profile.

Both Myspace and Facebook allow your children to restrict access to their profiles to friends. That's great, she said, but you also have to make sure no one slips in the back door. Anyone can request that your child make him or her a friend, Aftab said. Do only let your kids have their real-life friends as Internet buddies — the people you know about.

The only exception would be if your child is trying to advertise a band or an event. Then he or she will need to let everyone see it. But your child doesn't need to give personal information out. Make sure what is put out isn't anything you don't want a stranger to know.

Snoop on your children. You're allowed to do that. Follow the trail of cyber breadcrumbs. Look at their profiles regularly, and click on their friends' profiles.

You want to see both what your child and her friends are saying. Often, it's your child's friends who are posting pictures of them that shouldn't be online, or giving details about their lives that could make them vulnerable, she said.

Also, click on the links your child is following. You want to know what they're looking at, so you can stop them if they're going to dangerous sites. You also need to make sure your kids aren't hiding a profile.

If your kids are 13 years old or younger, they shouldn't have access to Myspace or Facebook at all, Aftab pointed out. The sites are illegal for children that age, and it's just too dangerous to let them go on. They could join club penguin, which is a part of the Walt Disney Company, the parent company of ABC News, or www.webkinz.com, which are social sites for children. Parents can block their younger kids from other sites with a good parental control program like McAfee.