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Making your family safer online
Sharing Information online
Coping with sexual predators
Protecting students at school
Bullying Online

Fam SmallYou already know a great deal about keeping yourself and your children safe, and it is easy to apply that knowledge in the online world.  
You have taught your children to be selective about the people with which they share personal or family information. Applying this same caution and good sense online will go a long way towards protecting you and your family. 

Making your family safer online

Remember, Internet safety is not something you can effectively impose on anyone over the age of ten. If teens don't buy into your safety goals they'll quickly find ways around them.

Effective safety is something families must do together because everyone has a vested interest in staying safe. Fortunately, kids have a basic sense of self-preservation most of the time. They do not want to be ripped off or abused by a scammer, thief, or predator. When they realize their actions may place not only themselves, but their family members or friends, at risk, they stop being resistant to using basic safety measures.

lockChecklist for family Internet safety

  1. Buy all the safety software you need and use good filtering tools.
    Keep them current and use them unfailingly, as automatically as locking your door when you leave the house. Remember that antivirus and anti-spyware software must be updated regularly to deal with new threats and set up to run regular scans. Configure your parent controls to limit the information your child or teen can access on a shared computer and where he or she can go online.
  2. Discuss online safety with your family and friends. Decide together how you will help protect each other online and set rules that reflect your personal and family values. Decide what activities are okay, and what information it's okay to give out and to whom. Consider using an Internet Safety Contract for Families
  3. Be selective about who you interact with online and what information you make public.
    • The risks are relatively low when you deal with people you know—your family, and friends. Going into public chat rooms or making your blog available to the general public, for example, significantly increases your risk.
    • Think before you post online in a public place (a place anyone on the Internet can see). Don’t post any information that can personally identify you, a family member, or friend. Sensitive information includes birth date, gender, town, e-mail address, school name, and photos. This information can be used to help someone find you or steal your identity.
  4. Pay attention to the risks of e-mail.
    • Think twice before you open attachments or click links in e-mail - even if you know the sender, as these can be used to transmit spam and viruses to your computer.
    • Never respond to phishing e-mail asking you to provide personal information, especially your account number or password, even if the message seems to be from a business you trust. Reputable businesses will not ask you for this information.
  5. If you have younger children, put your family computer and Internet-connected game consoles in a central location rather than a private area.  
  6. Be cautious about meeting someone you've met online in person. Have a friend come with you and meet in a busy public place. Remember, people online are not always who they say they are.
  7. Review the features on your children's mobile phones. Can they download images from the Internet, use instant messaging, or access services that allow others to pinpoint their location? All of these features could be a cause for concern, depending on your child’s maturity and the situation. 
  8. Find out how and where to report abuse. Create an environment that encourages your kids to report abuse to you. Acting as a responsible Internet citizen can help stop the illegal activity, harassment, and predatory behavior of online criminals. 
  9. Don’t trade personal information for “freebies.” Just as in the physical world, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Unwanted software, such as spyware and viruses, often piggybacks on software that’s “free.” 
  10. Check out the safeguards on computers you or your child uses outside the home—at school, the public library, and the homes of friends. 
  11. Choose a safe online name. Use e-mail addresses, IM names, chat nicknames, and other such identifiers that don't give away too much personal information. Pick a name that doesn't help identify you (your age, for example) or locate you. Avoid flirtatious or provocative names that may cause unwanted attention.
  12. Sit down with your family regularly to review Internet contacts and activity. Check settings including buddies, blogs, browser history, image files, music downloads, and so on. Let kids know you'll do this periodically. Explain that this is not to violate their privacy, but to protect them and the family from risks. 
  13. Spend time online with your children. Learn how to use the tools your kids are using: blogs, e-mail, instant messaging, and so on. This is a great opportunity to ask your kids to help you set up your own blog, get started with instant messaging, play with searches, or teach you whatever it is you don't yet know how to do.
  14. Once you've got a sense of how the tools and services work, evaluate them for safety. For example, consider these questions:
    • Does the service allow you to easily report abuse?
    • Does the service provide clear instructions for how to be safe?
    • Is there a range of options that let you make your information as private as you like? 

Internet safety contract for families

The Internet is a public place and I am responsible for using it safely to help protect myself, my family, and my friends.

  • I will only use safe contact names—in e-mail, IM, blogs, etc.
  • I will never use the Internet to bully or harass anyone.
  • I will not post content to a public site without my parent's permission.
  • I will not expose my personal information or the information of my friends or family (name, address, phone or cell numbers, school) in text or through pictures.
  • I will never meet in person an Internet "friend" without telling my parents and having someone I trust with me.
  • It is my responsibility to browse safely. I will not look for inappropriate content, and I will tell my parents if I see something that upsets me.
  • I will only download programs from the Internet that my parents have approved.
  • I will not register to use Web sites or take surveys or quizzes that ask for personal information.
  • I know that information posted on the Web can stay up there forever.
  • I will think about with whom I am sharing information and be thoughtful about what is appropriate to share.

___________________________________                   ____________________________
(Child's name)                                                                                     (Date)

Who else is exposing you online?

schoolYou know the information you post about yourself online and you may know the information your friends have posted about you. But there are many other sources posting your information that you should consider. What information is on your school’s website?

On the Web sites of clubs, organizations, or the church you belong to? What information has the government, or public directory sites posted? Has information about you been posted by your parents or other family members?

Often the information needed to identify and locate you is not all hosted in one place, but the combined amount of information may be enough to do harm. You should search on your name, nicknames, school, clubs etc. 

penInformation is permanent

Many teens, are very casual with giving out personal information online because they fail to fully understand the ramifications of doing so. You will rarely feel any immediate negative consequences for giving out information. Much of the time you may never understand that there is a connection between something we, a friend, or family member posted and a subsequent consequence. 

Think of each piece of information as a drop of water. When a drop of water lands, it is either absorbed, evaporates, or becomes part of a body of water and is indistinguishable from any other drop. But this is not the case with online information.

Today each drop of information is collected into personal virtual buckets. The information rarely disappears; rather, it accumulates, slowly building a comprehensive picture of your identities and lives. Small details about your appearance, where you live, go to school and work, financial status, emotional vulnerabilities, and the lives of those close to us all add up.

Comments, actions, or images once posted online may stay long after you delete the material from your site or request a friend to delete your information from their site. You won’t know who else has downloaded what you wrote or what search engine crawled and stored a photo. You can’t know who else sees your comments and judges you by them, nor will you have the opportunity in most cases to explain.

If you want to shed an earlier image and move in new directions, your previous postings may make it difficult. Perhaps an old relationship that you do not want to be associated with any longer remains online for anybody to see. You may have had embarrassing moments documented that won’t go away.

Anyone – those with good intentions as well as those with intent to do harm – can dip into your virtual bucket and search for your information years from now. It may be the admissions director at a graduate school to a potential employer, or your future children or in-laws. Or it could be an identity thief or any other kind of predator, or anyone in your life who wants to lash out at you, can cause harm.

What seemed like a good idea at the time may come back to bite you in a variety of ways.

So think before you post. It is far easier to think twice and refrain from posting than it is to try to take it back.

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Fam Large RightMaking choices about sharing information online

Before engaging in conversations about online safety you have to understand your own safety standards so you can make informed choices. Draw some conclusions about what personal information you want to share, what information you are willing to share in certain circumstances, and what information you don’t ever want to be shared.

Discuss the ripple effect of sharing information. Ask whether people in your family are comfortable with how far the ripples carry your information and who else might be affected. Keep in mind the concept of how information placed online can be permanent and where this information might be shared in the future. Once you are comfortable with your level of sharing, ask this second set of questions:

  • What information are others sharing about you?
  • With whom are they sharing your information?

Agree about the permission settings you want to establish to determine who has access to your family’s information. These settings typically include:

  • Public – allows every Internet user (over 2 billion people) to see your information.
  • Friends of friends – allows your friends and their friends to see your information. Remember that the friend of a friend is likely to be a stranger. 
  • Friends only – only the people in your friends/buddies list can see all your information.
  • Private - you decide who (if anyone) can see your information. Some people may choose to keep their site entirely private and use it as their personal diary.

You should have conversations with spouses and partners, family members and extended families, colleagues and even employers, clubs, organizations, churches, charities or other groups you are affiliated with or were affiliated with in the past. You should also have discussions with the parents of your children’s friends if your child is going online at their houses.  Work towards an understanding about what information each person needs to protect for their safety, and what information they are comfortable with sharing and with whom.

Many families with minor children like to establish an Internet Safety Contract posted near the PC, game console or another high-traffic online location. This can serve as a reminder of what was agreed to.

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predatorsCoping with sexual predators

There are sexual predators online and this is very concerning, but there is a large gap between the sensational way that news reports present ‘facts’ and reality. There are also simple steps that people can take to significantly reduce their risk of exploitation. 
Internet sexual predators prey on people of all ages, but those most at risk are teens between the ages of 13 and 15, particularly those who already show other at-risk behaviors. Younger kids are not very interested in socializing online with strangers and older kids are generally a bit more cautious. 

Talk to your kids about online sexual predators just as you talk about other kinds of potential threats they may face. Before talking to your kids about sexual predators online, take time to read Internet Safety Education for Teens: Getting It Right, created by the Crimes against Children Research Center.

Steps to take if your child is being stalked

If you suspect a sexual predator is stalking your child, follow these steps:

  • Look at the files and communications on your child's computer and determine who he or she is communicating with. Include instant messages, e-mail, and especially social networking sites, chat rooms, and public blogs.
  • Talk openly with your child about your suspicions. Tell him or her about the danger of interacting with sex offenders.
  • Review mobile phone messages with your child. Ask for his or her help in identifying callers you don’t recognize.
  • If any of the following occurs keep the computer ON but turn the monitor OFF, contact the police, and follow their instructions:
    • Something online leads you to believe your child is at physical risk.
    • Your child or anyone in the household has received child pornography or abusive images.
    • Your child has been sexually solicited or receives sexually explicit images.

gavelHelping a victim of sexual exploitation 

In any crime, the predator bears the entire blame. This is especially true with sexual exploitation. Sexual acts with minors are illegal and exploitive, and as a society, everyone must be committed to protecting minors - even when the minor acts against his own best interests.

Sexual predators frequently try to make a child believe that the abuse was the child's fault. If the child feels guilty or ashamed, he or she will be much less likely to report it. They may also try to convince minors that the interaction was something they wanted. Minors who feel alone or neglected are particularly susceptible to this tactic.

These public service announcement posters created by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) can help you understand more about the exploitation of youth. Click each thumbnail to view it in a larger format.










How to respond if you discover sexual exploitation

If you learn that your child or teen has been sexually exploited, it brings up a range of emotions. But if the child is present, it is important that you stay calm. Let children and teens know you believe them, that you will protect them, and reassure them that the abuse was not their fault.

Harborview Medical Center’s Center for Sexual Assault and Traumatic Stress, located in Seattle, provides an excellent and comprehensive resource for abuse victims and their families. They prepared the following list for parents titled What to do if your child has been sexually abused:

  1. Stay calm. Fear and anger are normal reactions, but they can frighten the child. Be sure not to blame, punish, or embarrass the child.
  2. Believe your child. It is rare for a child to lie about sexual abuse. Many children who report abuse are not believed. Do not deny or ignore what your child is telling you.
  3. Listen to your child. Take your child to a private place and let them tell you what happened in his or her own words. Give your child your full attention.
  4. Reassure your child that it wasn’t their fault. Assure them that you are glad he or she told you. Give positive messages such as, “I know it’s not your fault”, or “I’m glad you told.” Be sure to let your child know they are not to blame.
  5. Protect your child immediately from the suspected abuser. Reassure the child that he or she is safe.
  6. Report the suspected abuse immediately to Child Protective Services and/or your local law enforcement agency.
  7. Don’t confront the offender in your child’s presence. In fact, it is probably best to let the proper authorities confront the offender.
  8. Seek professional help for your child and your family. This includes medical attention as needed, child protective services, and a counselor trained in treating sexual abuse.)
  9. Respect your child’s privacy. Be careful not to discuss the abuse in front of people who do not need to know what happened.
  10. Let your child talk about it at his or her own pace. Don’t pressure you child into talking about the abuse. Forcing information can be harmful and you are not trained to interview a child victim. On the other hand, do not try to silence your child. Allow your child to talk, as they need to.
  11. Allow your child to express his or her feelings but keep your own feelings about the abuse separate. Your child may have feelings about the abuse and the offender that are different from yours.
  12. Try to resume a “normal” as life as possible. Protect your child, but don’t make him or feel different or isolated.
  13. Don’t dismiss your child’s feelings by telling them to “forget about it”. You and your child will both need time to work through all the feelings and changes, especially if the offender is someone in the family. The time it takes for a child to heal varies, depending upon the child as well as the circumstances of the sexual assault (such as who the offender is, how long the abuse continued, whether or not threats, bribes, or force was used, and the type of abuse).
  14. Seek help for yourself. Parents often feel angry, guilty, or to blame when they learn their child has been sexually assaulted. Talk to someone you trust, or call a counselor who will be able to help you.

Overcoming your hesitation to report sexual assault and get help

A number of factors may make it difficult for a victim/survivor to identify her or his experience as a victim of sexual assault and to seek assistance. George Mason University Sexual Assault Services is another excellent resource for abuse victims and their families. Among their resources are these reasons people don't report sexual abuse:

  1. Confusion and Denial. First, there may be confusion about what the victim/survivor has experienced, especially if the assault took place in the context of a freely chosen social or romantic/sexual interaction. The victim may simply be unwilling or unable to believe that someone she or he knows and trusts would betray her/him in this manner.
  2. Shame and Self-Blame. Many survivors do not tell anyone about their experience or get medical and legal assistance because they feel guilty and ashamed. There is a strong tendency to self-blame that is often reinforced by the perpetrator’s manipulation, along with societal myths about rape and female sexuality.
  3. Stigma and Fear of Re-Victimization. Unfortunately, rape survivors who disclose their experience may be blamed and stigmatized by family, friends, medical personnel, the legal system, and the media. Thus, there may be some reality in the survivor’s reluctance to seek help and /or report a sexual assault.
  4. Fear of Losing Control. When a person is sexually assaulted, she or he is robbed of the control that is so critical to our psychological well-being. Many victims are afraid that seeking help or reporting an assault will lead to further loss of control, i.e., losing the right to make decisions for oneself, being identified by others only as a “rape victim” and losing one’s other roles and identities; and losing one’s privacy and anonymity within the campus community.
  5. Not Knowing the Options. Many survivors are unclear about what recourse they have following a sexual assault. They may have stereotyped or unrealistic ideas about what they must endure if they report the assault and/or seek medical attention or counseling. For example, they might believe that if they report the matter to the university, they must go the police and press criminal charges against the perpetrator. Also, if it is too late for medical or police intervention, the victim/survivor may not realize that s/he can always seek help for the emotional consequence of an assault.
  6. Fear of the Perpetrator. Many survivors continue to fear the perpetrator(s) who have raped them. Unless a restraining order is obtained, there may be nothing to prevent the perpetrator being a further threat to the victim. Survivors may be harassed, intimidated, or assaulted again by perpetrator or his friends. A local women’s shelter, a church group, support group, abuse center, or law enforcement can sometimes be of assistance to the survivor in keeping the perpetrator away and/or helping her find new accommodations where she will feel more secure.
  7. Sexual assault is traumatic for the victim, both physically and emotionally. Many times, sexual assault committed by a date or acquaintance can be more devastating for the victim than if the assault had been committed by a stranger since the victim’s trust in others and in her own judgment can be seriously impaired. Thus, the emotional or psychological damage is usually severe, if not more so than the physical injury that may result. Victims are often left feeling:
    • Powerless
    • Vulnerable
    • Violated
    • Humiliated

Furthermore, the victim’s ability to function in various areas of life may be hampered after the assault.

Reporting sexual abuse

As soon as the victim is safe and reassured, report the abuse to your local law enforcement agency or child protective services.

If you suspect your child, or someone you know, has been sexually assaulted, in the State of Washington, call the Harborview Center for Sexual Assault and Traumatic Stress at (206) 744-1600.

To report known or suspected child exploitation anywhere in the country contact the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) at 1-800-THE-LOST.

Additional Resources can be found at:

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school wirelessProtecting students at school

Official school Web sites, online newsletters, and other school communications may contain specific information about students and faculty, including names and photos, identifying who is participating in student councils, who is on various sports teams, and so on. Additionally, they often contain information about when and where meetings, practices, and events will be held which provides predators with information they can use to locate individuals, or target their empty homes. Some classes may also create their own Web sites so parents and students can check out homework assignments or students can post projects.

If your school is potentially exposing any personal information about students it’s time for the school to do a safety analysis of all online communications to identify and mitigate risks. Consider whether the site should be searchable by the public and whether you should use full names of students. You may want the information to be two-tiered: with some visible to the general public; and some restricted to the ‘approved’ list of e-mail addresses that students and parents provide at the beginning of each year.

Establishing Internet safety policies in schools

Policies should be given out to every teacher and to all students and their families. Specific policies might include:

  • What information the school may share about its staff and students
  • When, how and where to report Internet abuse – whether it involves bullying, plagiarism, inappropriate use of school computers, or other forms of online abuse by either students or teachers.
  • The types of filters and other restrictions the school has put in place so students and their families are clear about the level of monitoring available.
  • Guidelines for appropriate Internet usage and the consequences for failing to adhere to the policies
  • Consequences for Internet actions that do not take place in school, but nevertheless impact students at school.

Students and their parents should be required to sign off on these policies.

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bullyingBullying Online

Bullying has been around forever, but when you add e-mail, blogs, instant messaging, mobile phones andother electronic methods, bullying takes on an entirely new dimension.  Cyberbullying, online harassment, and cyber stalking are all terms for ways in which those who wish to hurt others, for whatever reason, use online tools to do so.

Cyberbullies can deliver an onslaught of accusations and threats through instant and text messages, e-mail, or cell phones at any time of the day or night.  Bullies can steal and alter photos in damaging ways or add derogatory comments; they can then post them on social networking sites (such as MySpace) or send them to the victim's friends and family.  Sometimes, pretending to be the victim, they create fake blogs to create trouble with the victim's friends or post embarrassing videos.  Because cyberbullies can remain anonymous, they don't have to be bigger or stronger to harass others.

Though the focus in the press is on cyberbullying among children and teens, cyberbullying affects people of all ages.  Cyberbullying of co-workers, managers, seniors, and exes are unfortunately common problems.

The full scope of cyberbullying is difficult to measure because of under-reporting.  However, we do know that nearly one in six U.S. children grades six to ten (that’s 3.2 million students) are victims of online bullying every year.

text messageWhat to do if you or your child are cyberbullied

Often young victims of bullying are told they should "just ignore it" or "toughen up." Instead of dismissing them, they need your support when they speak up about online abuse.

Make sure your child understands that it is a myth that "weaklings tattle."  In reality, those who tell are the ones who are not willing to be bullied.  Speaking out and getting help are positive declarations that they deserve to be treated better. 

Cyberbullying directly affects the emotional well-being of both victims and bullies.  Every effort should be made to find the bully to hold them accountable for their actions and to help them change their behavior.

To help someone who is being cyberbullied:

  1. If you feel that you or your child is in any way unsafe, call the police.  Do not hesitate or wait to see if the abuse will stop.
  2. If you or your children feel any personal threat, or someone stalks or continually harasses you, report them to the Web site where you are experiencing abuse.  If the online service does not provide the support you need, change services and let them know why you changed. 
  3. Reputable companies should have an easily discoverable report abuse function.
    1. Report abuse to your Internet service provider (ISP) or cell phone company, and follow any instructions for documenting the problem and taking action against the abuser.
    2. Many services--blog sites, chat rooms, instant messaging services--have moderators and methods to report abuse or ways to help you block undesirable people from contacting you. 
  4. If the cyberbullying is related to a school or work environment, report it to the school or employer.  They should have strict policies and act on them quickly.

Six safety tips to avoid or deal with online bullying

Follow these steps to avoid or cope with cyberbullying:

  1. Keep personal information (address, phone number, etc.), feelings, or personal photos private so a bully can’t abuse them.
  2. Use technology tools to block anyone whose behavior is inappropriate or threatening in any way.
  3. Do not answer phone calls or read messages, e-mail, or comments from cyberbullies, but do set them aside in case they are needed by authorities as evidence or to take action.  Instruct your kids to do the same.
  4. Check in with your children periodically to ask whether they are being bullied on the computer, their cell phones or through online games.  Encourage your children to report bullying to you and take action on their behalf.  Don’t dismiss their problems or blame them for not being tough enough. 
  5. Make sure your children know why they should never bully others, and make it clear what the consequences will be if they do.  Some parents of bullies tend to minimize or dismiss the behavior of their child.  They consider such behavior as being "just a phase," or say "kids will be kids."  Not only does this point of view utterly disregard the tremendous damage done to victims, it also fails to recognize the very dangerous path bullies themselves walk.  Those who bully in school face higher rates of issues with alcoholism, imprisonment, failed relationships, and failure at work.

The Ad council has excellent video resources to help you and your families understand the impact of Cyberbullying.  Many are also available in Spanish.
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