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Internet and Cell Phone Safety: Protect Your Family from Internet and Cell Phone Dangers

 

Social Networking and Video Web sites
E-mail
Cell Phones and Texting

Technology has made it easy to find helpful information on the Internet, but children can harm themselves and others through the information they get or share online. Credit card scams, identity theft, computer viruses, and pornography ads are just a few of the risks of going online. The best way to protect yourself and your family is to make yourself familiar with the dangers of these media. Talk about these dangers with your children.

SOCIAL NETWORKING AND VIDEO WEB SITES

Teach your children not to post photos or videos of themselves doing personal things online

Facebook, Twitter, Meetup, and Match.com are some examples of social networking Web sites. Facebook depends on users to post pictures and information about themselves so that others may learn more about them. Sites such as YouTube are for fun and sharing information. These Web sites are meant to connect people through the Internet for fun. But without guidelines for using them carefully, your children may be hurt by them. You should make it clear to your children that some types of pictures should not be posted online. Pictures of underage drinking parties, smoking, driving, and nudity might be okay for friends to see, but not for others, such as college admissions officials or employers who might see them.

Teach your children to stop others from taking photos or videos of them

Teach your children to do everything they can to prevent others from taking photos or videos of them. This is the only way to stop someone else from getting the photos and posting them. Because Facebook and Twitter let you post pictures and tag (identify) other people in the picture, a “friend” of your child might identify him or her even if your child does not post the photo. Also, keep in mind that photos and videos showing your children doing something illegal may be used as evidence against them. Child pornography laws in many states make it illegal for any person to send sexually explicit material to minors. This is true even if the sender of the material is a minor child sending images of him- or herself to other children. The best way to make sure that this does not happen is to keep these kinds of pictures and videos off the Internet in the first place. Teach your children about what counts as an improper photo and talk about the problems it might cause.

Protect yourself and your family from becoming victims of identity theft

Many people post addresses, birth dates, gender, full names, and names of family members online. However, posting this kind of personal information online is dangerous. This is because it is the same kind of information that you are asked to give on credit card, job, bank, and school applications. This means that a stranger could go onto your teenager’s Facebook page, write down the information, and commit identity theft. Talk to your children about ways to limit the information on their profiles. Here are some tips for safety.

  • Do not list the year of birth. List only the month and day.
  • Do not list a full street address. List only the town.
  • Never post a mother’s maiden name. (This name is used a lot as a security check for resetting passwords.)
  • Do not list the name of the school that they attend.
  • Do not tell friends online when their family is going on vacation.
  • Never post a Social Security number on a social networking site.

Report identity theft

Because Internet scammers can be in another state, or even another country, it is extremely difficult to find and prosecute them. But it is important to report identity theft as soon as it happens. Tell your children to tell you right away if they think someone else is using their identity. You will want to start right away to file police reports and make phone calls to banks and credit card companies. For more information about New Jersey’s Identity Theft Prevention Act and what to do if you discover that you or your child is a victim of identity theft, read the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs flyer, Identity Theft and Phishing.

Protect your children from predators

Social networking Web sites have privacy settings to block strangers from contacting you or even seeing your profile. Become familiar with these settings yourself. Sit with your children and set the highest level of security for their profiles. Limit who may see their profiles to people in the neighborhood or school. Also limit who can search for their names and who can see their pictures. Often, a request will come with a message such as, “Hey, you’re cute! Let’s be friends.” If your child doesn't know this person, teach him or her to reject or ignore the request. It’s okay if your child has one less Facebook “friend.”

Monitor computer usage

Below are some ways to monitor your children’s computer use so that you can protect them.

  • Ask them to let you see what they’ve been posting online.
  • Friend them on Facebook (but be aware that your children can limit what you see).
  • Ask your children for their computer and Internet passwords and write them down. (If your children realize that you have access to their accounts at any time, they are less likely to ignore your rules.)
  • Do random quick check-ups of their account (give them some warning and allow them to look at their account as you check it).
  • Place the family computer in a shared room where you are present.
  • Set up specific times for your children to be on the computer.

E-MAIL

E-mail is now a part of everyday life and is the most popular form of online communication. It is quick, easy to use, and free. However, you should be aware that the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) requires all commercial Web sites to get a parent’s permission for e-mail users under the age of 13. This is why Google and Yahoo e-mail will not allow minors under 13 to create e-mail accounts. (Facebook also follows this law and prevents minors under 13 from creating profiles.) Encourage your children to follow this law and not lie about their age. If your children want to have e-mail accounts, some sites, such as Yahoo mail, will let you attach their e-mail accounts to your own. The children’s e-mail account will still have their own different e-mail addresses but, if you log into your main account, you can check what e-mails your children have been sending and receiving. This is important because e-mail can carry many types of harm.

Common dangers of using e-mail

The most common dangers of using e-mail are (1) spreading computer viruses and malware, (2) being fooled by spam e-mail offers, and (3) giving out private information. Opening strange e-mail can spread computer viruses and malware. Viruses prevent your computer from working properly. Malware lets people secretly access your computer to steal data, passwords, and personal information. Spam e-mail will usually ask for money. Spam e-mail offers are not real. E-mail sites already block a great deal of spam, but they cannot block it all. In general, personal e-mail accounts have a low level of security. This means that e-mail is never really deleted. Because someone can hack into your e-mail account, it is best not to send sensitive information in e-mail. Teach your children not to open strange e-mail messages, to block spammers, and add e-mails that might be spam to the spam folder. Check your children’s spam folders yourself to see which e-mails are safe. Tell your children not to give out bank account numbers, Social Security numbers, or personal information through e-mail.

CELL PHONES AND TEXTING

Cell phones used to be only for making phone calls. We now use cell phones to perform many more tasks, such as text and picture messaging, listening to music, gaming, and using the Internet. This means that children now have more ways to get into trouble using phones. The biggest problems with cell phones are when children use services they think are free and instead are charged fees, when they practice cell phone “sexting,” and when they text while driving. Sexting means to send sexual content in the form of pictures or videos to another person by phone. Sexting is improper for children. And, in many states, even a minor child may be prosecuted under child pornography law for sending sexually explicit images of him- or herself to another child. Children who are caught sexting during school hours may be suspended from school or sent to detention. And a child who is the subject of the picture or text will be embarrassed if someone forwards an explicit picture of him or her to anyone other than those expected to receive them. For now, text messages alone do not violate the law, but laws may treat these messages differently in the future.

Expensive fees

Cell phones can download music, games, and applications with the click of a button. These services are easy to use, but are easily abused by your children, who may not realize that charges will be added to your bill. You will be legally responsible for any of these charges. For example, every time your child wants to buy a new song, the cell phone company lets him or her just click “yes” and the cost is charged to the monthly cell phone bill. Even donations can be made with one click and can get you into trouble.

Texting or talking while driving is illegal in New Jersey

It is illegal in New Jersey to text or talk on a cell phone while driving. (There is an exception for drivers who face an emergency or have reason to fear for their safety.) Studies show that texting while driving is more dangerous than driving while drunk. A New Jersey Senate committee recently proposed increasing fines for these offenses. A $200 fine would be imposed for the first offense, up from $100. There would be a $400 fine for a second offense happening within 10 years, and a $600 penalty would be charged for subsequent offenses. Chronic offenders would be subject to 90-day license suspension.

Bullying

A final word of caution about something else that children do with cell phones: bullying. The current anti-bullying law in New Jersey prohibits bullying at school, at a school-sponsored event, or on school transportation. Children can engage in cyber-bullying of others online, anytime they have access to the Internet or phone. Sadly, cyber-bullying is common in schools. It may take the form of hateful text messages, stalking, or filling an e-mail inbox with disgusting images or spam mail. A newly proposed “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights” prohibits bullying even off school grounds. Under this proposed new law, a child who cyber-bullies another would be suspended or expelled from school no matter where the bullying took place.

Educate yourself

Do not ignore the dangers of the Internet and instant communication. The best protection you can give your children is to educate yourself and let them know that you are there to help them if they have any problems. For more information, check some of the following helpful Web sites:

  • OnGuardOnline.gov is a government project to raise awareness about Internet dangers.
  • Media-Awareness.ca is a site dedicated to educating parents and teachers about issues in media.
  • NetSmartz.org offers free Online Safety Resource Kits along with practical tips.

 

Monitoring Your Children’s Cell Phone and E-mail Use

It is important to monitor your children’s cell phone and e-mail use to keep them safe and to protect others.

  • Ask them for their computer and Internet passwords.
  • Monitor e-mail usage and give fair warning that you want to log into their account for random quick check-ups.
  • Every so often, ask to check their phones to make sure that what they’ve been texting is not sexual or criminal.
  • If your teenager has a driver’s license, prohibit texting and talking on the cell phone while driving.
  • Check your phone bills.
  • Set a cell phone budget.
  • Set limits for cell phone usage, such as a no-cell-phone rule during dinner or after a certain hour of the night.
  • Consider getting a GPS-enabled phone that lets you track where the cell phone is at any time.
  • Consider paying an extra fee each month for certain parental controls. Get parental controls that let you block numbers, set time restrictions, limit how many texts or calls can be made, and help locate a cell phone.
  • Use spam controls and content filtering according to age group.

 

This article is from the December 2010 issue of Looking Out for Your Legal Rights®.

This information last reviewed 11/2/11

 

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