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Published: Thursday, October 25, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Ways to help your kids stay safe online

10 tips to keep kids safe online
• Keep computers in shared, high-traffic family spaces in the home.
• Kids need to know they can't share their address, school, middle name or where they're at, especially if it means telling the world they're home alone.
• Facebook prohibits users under 13. Parents should not let their younger children fudge their birthday to get a profile.
• If your kid's on Facebook, you should be too, and you should be friends with them. That's a mutual act of trust, though, so you shouldn't post anything on their page that would embarrass them.
• Posting videos of schoolyard fights is not OK.
• Think hard about whether you want to post pictures of your children on your own pages, and what kinds of pictures, knowing they could end up anywhere -- and with anyone -- in the world.
• Have a conversation with children and teens about the possible criminal and social consequences of sending sexually provocative pictures or text messages.
• Make sure kids know to keep passwords and financial information private, especially if they have access to debit and credit cards.
• Make sure screen names and e-mail addresses are safe: No mention of gender, their birthday or other identifying or inappropriate stuff.
• Young children are more vulnerable to sexual predators. They should be monitored more closely, including who they talk to and how, even on gaming sites designed for children.
EVERETT -- Children and teens need help staying safe online.
Local schools and police officers say they've seen an uptick in recent years about safety concerns involving children and the Internet, such as online bullying, name-calling and threats. As technology and social media are woven deeper into our lives, the experts say parents need to catch up.
So far, Snohomish County mostly has been spared from the kinds of high-profile cases that make national headlines.
Earlier this month, a 16-year-old Edmonds boy was arrested after allegedly posting to an online forum regarding plans for school shootings in Lynnwood and Sammamish.
Mostly though, problems have been limited to playground bullying moved online, and young people not quite grasping how easily something they post today can become a potential embarrassment that will haunt them for years.
Most of the faux pas aren't deliberate, said Steve Goodwin, a librarian and informational technology specialist at the Edmonds School District.
"It's a lot of inadvertent things where students assume information they put out there is private, they assume that people out there are working in their best interests, and what we're trying to do is give kids the tools to differentiate between what's useful or what's safe out there," he said.
The Edmonds School District tries to be proactive, providing schools with information and resources to teach kids how to use the Internet as a learning tool, said Kim Mathey, the district's manager of libraries and instructional technology.
The aim is to develop critical thinking skills, in addition to cyber safety and etiquette, she said.
Schools also field a lot of questions from parents who aren't sure how to monitor their child's activities on the Internet, Mathey said.
Parents struggle to keep up because their children are "digital natives" who grew up on the Internet, said Bruce Pinkleton, a communication professor at Washington State University.
"That is a really big issue," he said. "Parental monitoring of their children's use of the Internet is a critical component, and speaking from experience, it's hard to do."
The First Amendment limits how much control the courts can exert on the web, making it a bit of a Wild West, Pinkleton said. Schools often are limited to regulating activity on school computers while encouraging similar use at home.
From a safety standpoint, the problem is how quickly harmful messages can spread, Everett police officer Aaron Snell said.
For example, when teens break up, one might attack the ex-boyfriend or girlfriend online. Or teens might post videos of someone getting beaten up.
"The anonymity of the Internet seems to make people a little more willing to speak out and speak their mind, instead of just saying it to the person or even behind their back," Snell said.
In Everett, school resource officers work with the schools to solve incidents within district policies, Snell said. Police take over if there's evidence of a crime, like threats of violence.
"It's becoming more common," he said. "It's not the normal call that school resource officers take, but it is out there."
Older children tend to target each other, but younger children are more vulnerable to predators, Snell said. They need to be monitored more closely -- and that applies to all ways kids use the web, like through smart phones and tablet computers.
"Parents should understand that this is an issue where you don't want to be your child's friend," he said. "You want to be their parent and know what's going on."
Schools also have struggled to monitor cell phones -- and prevent electronic thefts -- on campus. Policies regarding personal electronic use can vary by school and district.
At the Edmonds district, the policy says technology is important to learning and for students becoming good citizens, but school administrators should "take appropriate steps to keep the school environment safe for learning and free from disruption."
Overall, parents can think of the web kind of like a local bowling alley, said Kathy Gill, a communication professor and digital media expert at the University of Washington.
"You wouldn't let your 12-year-old go to a bowling alley with people you've never met," she said.
Gill recommends parents join the major social media platforms -- Facebook, Twitter and maybe Pinterest, so they can understand the environment in which their children are spending time.
"In the process, both parents and children learn something," she said.
Being "friends" with your children on social media is an act of mutual trust, so parents have to try not to embarrass their kids with posts or photos, she said. Then, they can take action when something inappropriate occurs.
Parents also should research Facebook's privacy settings, which change over time, she said. Teens need much stronger privacy settings than the default.
Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com
Learn more
There are lots of good lists of safety tips and resources available online for parents and children.
One good starting point is www.netsmartz.org, run by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
The U.S. Attorney's Office keeps the resources that it sends to schools available at www.justice.gov/usao/waw/Programs/psc.html.
Local safety resources lists:
• Edmonds School District: www.edmonds.wednet.edu/Domain/92
• Everett Police Department: www.ci.everett.wa.us/Get_PDF.aspx?pdfID=2408 (PDF auto-downloads)

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