NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, October 2007
Texas Attorney General Offers Child Cyber Safety Tips
By Ira Wilsker, APCUG Director;
Columnist, The Examiner, Beaumont, TX; Radio & TV Show Host

(click to email author)

http:// www.cybertipline.com

Sadly, there are a small minority of creeps that try to ruin the internet for the rest of us. There are a lot of great things on the internet, and that should require no explanation in this column. There are also the relatively few who prowl the internet looking for victims. Much has been said and written about this topic in the past, but still, several of the warnings need to be reiterated. While there are many excellent child safety resources available in the internet, the Texas Attorney General’s office has posted an informative website with many child safety tips.

According to the website, “… one in seven children will be solicited for sex online in the next year.” This frightening statistic reinforces that fact that parents and children need to know the risks inherent online, and how to deal with them. One of the resources posted online is a “Cyber Safety” brochure at http://www.oag.state.tx.us/ag_publications/pdfs/cybersafety.pdf. This brochure, while brief, contains surprisingly concise information that is right on point. I would strongly suggest that any parent who is reading this column should download and print out the brochure, and promptly review the information with any children in the household. It is that important. The heart of the four page brochure starts with “Internet Safety Tips for Parents”. The first of the tips for parents is the oft repeated “Keep the computer in a common room of the house”; this allows for better parental monitoring of the child’s web surfing. The next tip is, “Speak openly about safety issues.” Do not keep the risks of the internet a secret from the child, as the threats are real out there; remember the “1 in 7” statistic. “Get involved. Tell your children to show you the sites they like to visit online.” Parents should be aware of the sites being visited by our children. As responsible parents, we need to be the parent and exercise reasonable control over the sites that they visit. We as parents need to realize that sites that may appear innocent and innocuous may carry hidden threats. Parents need to “Keep their (kids’) passwords readily accessible and access your child’s account regularly.” What may appear to the child as inappropriate parental snooping may in reality be one of the keys to protecting our children. We as parents may be suspicious and notice potential threats that our innocent children may be oblivious to. The time to take action is in the preventative stage prior to any illicit action; this is much better than possibly taking corrective action after an incident.

Our children in their innocence are often trusting and unaware of how their personal information may be abused by others. According to the brochure, we must, “Set clear rules restricting children from displaying their name, address, telephone number, pictures and other personal information online.” While the extremely popular social networking sites such as “MySpace’ and “FaceBook” offer the ability to post personal information for all to see, there is also the potential for the illicit gathering of personal information for nefarious purposes. It is likely that our children may want to meet their “virtual” friends in the real physical world. The brochure deals with this eventuality by warning, “Tell your children they are never to agree to get together with someone they “meet” online.” We, as parents, must “Warn them of the dangers of such meetings and tell them to alert you if someone approaches them about setting up a face-to-face meeting.” Realize that individuals may outright lie online about their age and gender in order to groom a potential victim, and trick them into a face-to-face meeting. Since the personal risk is extreme (remember “one in seven”), this is an activity that must be strictly curtailed.

The tips in the brochure under the heading “Internet Safety Tips for Teens” reflect the guidelines presented for the parents, but are directly targeted towards our kids. The only significantly different tip for kids is, “If you become aware of the sharing, use, or viewing of child pornography online, immediately report this to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children at 1-800-843-5678 or online at http:// www.cybertipline.com.”

Our children have created a type of code using abbreviations or acronyms to utilize while chatting online. Some kids use the code words to make their online chats less understandable by their parents who may be monitoring the chat, while others simply use the lingo for the purpose of speeding up the pace of the chat by typing widely acceptable abbreviations rather than complete words. While there are likely hundreds of such code words commonly used in online chats, there are a few dozen that are among the most widely used. The brochure includes a few dozen of the common chat terms on a page titled, “Teen Chat Lingo”. Parents should acquaint themselves with the sometimes incomprehensible language used in chats so they may better understand the topic of the conversation. There are many other online resources that list more comprehensive dictionaries of chat terms and lingo, and a quick search for any unknown terms on any of the major search engines will display the true meaning of the abbreviations used.

The Attorney General’s cyber safety website contains several other excellent resources, including a variety of online videos. The videos include a town hall meeting where child internet safety is discussed, a video for parents “Internet Safety: What You Don't Know Can Hurt Your Child”, and “Internet Chase Video” which demonstrates the risks our children face when they trust the people they meet online. Parents can also get a free DVD of the Internet Safety video by calling 1-800-252-8011.

While these tips may appear to be draconian on their face, we as parents must consider the price we and our children may pay if we become victimized as the “one in seven”. The Attorney General’s office is to be commended for compiling and distributing this most helpful information. I strongly appeal to the parents reading this column to go to the website and learn how to protect their kids online.

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