Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Ways to Keep your Teen Safe

The following research-based tips can help encourage teens to talk with you about cyberbullying and sexual solicitation, as well as keep your teens from being victims or perpetrators.

• Get access to "parental block" software that protects your child from exploring inappropriate websites. There are many options you can find by typing "free Internet blocking software" into a search engine (for example, Google).

• Keep computers with Internet access in a centralized location in the home, not in your child's bedroom and set limits on data access on your teen's cell phone.

• Check your child's computer and data use history. (Type in "Internet monitoring software for parents" on a search engine—some options are specifically geared toward monitoring your child's activity on social networking sites such as Facebook and Myspace).

• Negotiate rules with your teen on cell phone use with regard to text and media messaging, and online data access.

• Set a family Internet and data use policy. Define the ground rules for Internet use, such as scheduled times, permissible websites, and limitations on cyber communication with familiar peers or close friends.

• When setting cyberspace rules, consider how vulnerable your child might be to sexual solicitation and cyberbullying. Base your decision on his or her life circumstances as well as age and stage of development. For example, rules for Internet use for children should be more restrictive than those set for teens.

• Because they value privacy, be prepared to enforce set consequences when teens fail to observe a "family Internet policy" (for example, teens can be held responsible for fixing damages from computer viruses or paying for data minutes overages) and setting appropriate limits and fair consequences.

• Teach your child what cyberbullying is and give some specific examples of what to look for; help them learn to identify and interpret information shared or comments made by the predator. Kids will often think they are the only ones experiencing this and that they should be able to handle it.

• Educate your teen about potential dangers of cyber communication and sharing information. It is very easy for a predator to learn where the child lives and goes to school from only a little bit of information.

• Help teens to role-play effective ways to respond to sexual solicitation and cyberbullying.

• If an incident involving victimization of your teen occurs, reassure him or her that Internet access will not be forever discontinued, nor will their cell phone be confiscated, unless such measures are deemed temporarily necessary for their immediate safety.

To down load the UF Extension publication For Teen Safety in Cyberspace, written by Kate Fogarty, assistant professor, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, University of Florida go to: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/FY/FY84800.pdf

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