6 Ways to Keep Your Kids Safe Online

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To the list of milestones that mark a child's growth – first steps, first words, first dates – the digital age has added many more. But those new high-tech landmarks for kids – first e-mail addresses, social networking accounts and gadgets – mean new challenges for parents.

For toddlers, teenagers and kids of all ages in between, online opportunities for education and entertainment are unlimited. But so are possibilities for privacy breaches, tarnished reputations, cybercrime and more.

ABCNews.com spoke to online safety experts about potential Internet hazards and tips for parents. Here's what they had to say:

1. Know your kids' technology.

A child's digital universe is constantly expanding. Experts say the best way to help them navigate it is to travel it with them.

"As a parent, I would focus on understanding exactly what my teen is doing and I would make sure I understand the technology that they're using and the sites they're visiting and then I would make sure they're following the appropriate safeguards for that environment," said Joe Sullivan, chief security officer for Facebook.

Software exists that lets parents monitor the sites their children visit and even keep up with the e-mail messages they send and receive. But Sullivan encourages parents to learn about their kids' online activities by asking them for advice.

"I think that the parent who asks the teen, 'Will you help me set up a Facebook account so that I can use Facebook?' is going to have a really rewarding dialogue with their teen," he said. Not only will it let the child show off what he knows about online computing, it's likely that the child will show the parent his own Facebook page and how he uses the site, he said.

Caroline Knorr, parenting editor for Common Sense Media, said it's important for parents to realize that the computer is just the beginning.

Mobile applications let them check in with friends via cell phone. Chat rooms invite conversation through the Nintendo DSi handheld gaming console.

"There are just so many ways kids can go online and interact with people," she said.

Keeping up with technology can be taxing, but if kids are picking it up, experts say, so should their parents.

2. Make sure their equipment is up to date.

You wouldn't put your kids on a bike or in a car seat without doing your due diligence and making sure it was up to date and functioning.

"You need to do that same type of analysis around the actual equipment they use online," said Sullivan.

Before your kids take a seat at the computer, he said to check that the browsers (whether it's Internet Explorer, Chome or Firefox) and antivirus software are current.

Many of the vulnerabilities that can lead to spam and phishing attacks come from outdated Web browsers and software, he said.

3. Apply the golden rule to the digital world.

It's a foolproof principle offline, so why not bring it online?

Behind a detached computer screen, it can be tempting to make comments or post pictures you might not circulate in real live company.

But, whether it applies to online bullying or disclosing information about other people, experts urge parents to invoke the golden rule: if you wouldn't want it done to you, don't do it to someone else.

"Teach that sensitivity about how something that's out there might not be that easy to take back," said Sullivan. Knorr pointed out that with all the new geo-tagging applications that let people "check-in" to various physical locations, kids should also be careful to not post their friends' locations.

4. Let them know that private never really means private

Learning how to share might be lesson no. 1 in kindergarten, but knowing when not to is lesson no. 1 online.

In the digital world, where information can be easily saved, stored and copied, Knorr said nothing is really private.

And kids – impulsive and inquisitive by nature – might be especially tempted to post inappropriate pictures, comments and videos online, she said.

In addition to sitting down with your child and making sure she understands what social networking privacy settings really mean, Knorr advised parents to tell their kids to "self reflect before you self reveal."

"You're in charge of your own privacy – anything you put up could be copied, forwarded and sent to those you never intended," she said.

5. Start the Conversation Early

The minimum age for opening a Facebook account is 13, but parents may be wise to start talking to their kids about online safety as early as 7 or 8.

When toddler-age kids start visiting preschool-appropriate websites, parents should actively monitor their online behavior, Knorr said. But as they get older and interested in social virtual worlds like Webkinz and Club Penguin, parents should start the conversation about online behavior.

"I think you start preparing well before they turn 13, in the same way I'm laying the groundwork for my kids before they start dating," Sullivan said. "You should have talked many times about the Internet and about the way identity can be manipulated online."

He also said that real-life examples can be used to teach online lessons. If a teen comes home upset that a secret shared with a friend was shared with others, he said, the experience could be used as a launchpad for a conversation on the implications of online sharing.

6. Keep the Conversation Going

And remember that the conversation never stops.

"It's important to think about Internet safety, as a parent, as a constant dialogue in which you're giving advice to your teen or child that's appropriate to their age or environment," said Sullivan.

It's impossible to cover all the necessary ground in one conversation and, given how dynamic the technology is, the field is constantly changing.

But, he advised, keep lines of communication open with your children and stay on top of the technology in their lives.