Online safety is everyone’s responsibility. Parents need to be aware, educated, and observant about their children’s use of the computer and cell phone. In our classrooms, teachers need to promote responsible Internet usage by students. The Internet safety curriculum in our school establishes a foundation to help youth develop the decision-making skills needed to use the Internet safely. But when those kids leave our school buildings, computers are no longer filtered, cell phone use is no longer monitored, and social networking sites such as Facebook are no longer blocked. Only through such coordinated efforts can we maximize the benefits of the Internet, while minimizing its dangers.
While computers open up a whole new world of opportunity for our children by expanding their horizons and their access to information, they also can be exposed to new types of dangers their parents weren’t exposed to as they grew up. There are individuals who attempt to sexually exploit children through the use of social networking sites and chat rooms.
The National Coalition has created the following tips for parents as they protect their children online.
*Develop a trusting relationship with your child.
*Keep the door of communication open.
*If you have reason to suspect your child is viewing inappropriate sites, do not overact. Approach your son or daughter with respect.
*Add to online profiles that you monitor your child’s use of the Internet.
*Know your children’s online friends.
*Use a pre-filtered Internet Service Provider (ISP). Visit www.FilterReview.com  for help.
*Check media storage devices such as CDs, zip disks and memory sticks.
*Check history files often.
*Spend time with your child as they surf the Internet.
*Ask your child to show you what IM (instant messaging) looks like.
*Have your child teach you about their favorite online destinations.
*Get to know and use the Parental Controls provided by your Internet Service Provider and/or blocking software.
*Always maintain access to your child’s online account and frequently check his/her account.
*Teach your child about responsible use of the resources on the Internet.
*Find out what safeguards are used at your child’s school, the public library and at the homes of your child’s friends. These are all places outside your supervision where a child can encounter an online predator.
*Instruct your child NEVER to arrange face-to-face meetings with someone they met online and not to respond to messages or bulletin board postings that are suggestive, obscene, belligerent or harassing.
*Tell your child to NEVER give out identifying information such as name, address, school name or telephone number to people they don’t know.
*Direct your child to NEVER post pictures of themselves or their friends on the Internet. Let them know this has seriously harmed other children.
*Teach your child to come and get you when they access something on the Internet that makes them feel uncomfortable, no matter what it is.
*Teach your child that the Internet is a good source for educational, recreational and creative searches, but has intentional land mines placed that could hurt them.
The YOUR HEALTH column is coordinated by Mercy Hospital.
Kriewald is Technology Coordinator for Valley City Public Schools