Most young people have Internet access at home, school and almost everywhere with smartphones, tablets and computers. These online communication tools are not themselves a problem, but the cyber world is not a harmless place. The threat of being bullied or sexually solicited while online might be a real problem for teens.
What can parents do to protect their children from tech-based dangers? The Ellis County Extension office is hosting an educational program on "Technology for Parents" at 6 p.m. Nov. 13 at the Extension office meeting room, 601 Main in Hays. Learn about the trends in youth Internet usage and receive tools and tips to keep kids safe while they are surfing cyberspace.
The class is free. Reserve your seat by contacting the Ellis County Extension office at (758) 628-9430 by Monday.
Research indicates the online world can be a dangerous and scary place for kids:
* 30 percent of teen girls who used the Internet frequently have been sexually harassed while online.
* 30 percent of teens have talked about meeting someone they met online.
* 25 percent of teens report being victims of cyberbullying.
* Less than a third (30 percent) of students report if they knew about cyberbullying, they would inform an adult about it.
Youth most likely to be victimized are those who are highly active in online social networking sites. The main reason kids don't tell adults about cyberbullying or other online dangers is because they're afraid their computer use will be restricted or their phone will be taken away.
Start talking to your kids early about Internet, phone and social media behaviors that are OK. It's important for children to know and feel they can talk to their parents about confusing or upsetting things that happen to them. These days, even children as young as 8 and 9 are online and can be targets. Children need parents to set limits on data access. They need guidance about appropriate websites and contacts.
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. Kids need to be aware of what to share and not share. For example:
* Explain why they should not include personal information in their profiles.
* Talk with them about why it's important they know the "friends" they communicate with online.
* Remind them to be careful and kind with their posts. Once something is posted online, it's there forever.
* Let them know you will be checking their personal electronic devices from time to time.
Educate your teen about potential dangers of cyber communication and sharing information. Negotiate rules with your teen on cellphone use with regard to text and media messaging, and online data access.
If an incident involving victimization of your teen occurs, reassure him or her Internet access will not be forever discontinued, nor will their cellphone be confiscated -- unless such measures are deemed temporarily necessary for their immediate safety.
The cyber world, similar to the real world, can be a dangerous place for kids. Learn to protect your child's online safety. Plan to attend the free Extension program on "Technology for Parents" on Nov. 13. Call (785) 628-9430 to register.
Linda K. Beech is
Ellis County Extension agent for family
and consumer sciences.