By Ernie Allen
Welcome to ConnectSafely.org. I am excited about the launch of this important resource and pleased to be able to express my enthusiastic support. I urge you to use it often. At the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), we believe that the most important steps a parent can take to protect children from dangers online are very simple: educate and communicate.
Social networking sites have become a daily part of the lives of millions of teens. Kids are using social networking sites to create their online identity, communicate with friends, and meet people with similar interests. These activities are legal and positive.
However, your kids may not be aware that they are putting themselves in danger by giving out too much personal information and communicating with people they first met online. Social networking sites incorporate instant messaging, chatrooms, profiles, pictures, E-mail, and blogging all in one site. Any person who accesses these sites can contact your child or teen through the site.
Blogs, also a significant feature of most social networking sites, are very popular with teens and young adults who use them as an outlet for their creativity. Teens often see their blogs as personal diaries and without realizing how many people have access to them, forget to censor them accordingly. Kids are expressive with their blogs, revealing their insecurities, feelings about their families, dreams, expectations, and frustrations. Someone looking to harm them can gain valuable information to target vulnerable kids. Parents need to be aware of these risks and communicate with their kids to help them avoid them.
Another issue we are concerned about is the proliferation of personal photos and videos being posted online. When you post a picture online, you can never get it back. Using privacy settings to limit access to your children’s pictures can help to protect them. However, you need to be sure that only people you know and trust in real life are able to access your pictures. The only way to ensure that no one is using and saving your pictures is to avoid uploading them to the Internet. We urge everyone to “think before you post.”
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children provides resources to encourage communication and educate parents, children, and teens through its prevention programs – NetSmartz.org and NetSmartz411.org. The NetSmartz Workshop uses age-appropriate, 3-D activities to teach children ages 5-17 how to stay safer on the Internet and in the real world. At NetSmartz.org, parents, guardians, educators, and law enforcement have access to additional resources.
NetSmartz411 is a primer for parents, an online resource for answering questions about Internet safety. Parents and guardians can search the knowledge base for answers to their questions about the online world.They can also use the “Ask the Experts” tab to send in a new question and receive a customized response.
Finally, if you have any information about child sexual exploitation, report to NCMEC’s CyberTipline, www.cybertipline.com. Launched in 1998, the CyberTipline has handled more than 500,000 tips and leads regarding child sexual exploitation, resulting in the arrest and successful prosecution of thousands of offenders.
Ernie Allen is CEO of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
[Views expressed by guest commentators do not necessarily reflect those of ConnectSafely.org.]