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Cyber safety is hot topic

October 13, 2010 - Betsy Bethel
There is a movement afoot to convince lawmakers to create a new national policy to protect our kids' privacy in this age of Facebook, My Space and chat rooms.

CommonSense Media, my go-to source for media reviews and recommendations, is leading the charge. A poll conducted by the watchdog group found that 92 percent of parents worry that their children share too much information on the Internet, and 75 percent of parents feel that social networking sites don't keep kids' information safe.

The group is lobbying parents, lawmakers, educators and the entire cyber industry to adopt and adhere to the following "common-sense" policies:

1. Do not track kids. No behavioral marketing for kids.

2. Opt in. Kids shouldn’t have to opt out of something to keep third parties — like marketers — from tracking them.

3. Clear & simple statements. Privacy statements should be easy to read and understand.

4. Everyone needs privacy education. Parents, teachers, and kids need to be educated about the risks of loss of privacy and how to control their personal information.

5. Innovate to protect. Industry must focus on creating better privacy protections.

6. Privacy for the 21st century. Government needs to update privacy policies to keep up with the times.

For more information about how to protect your kids online and on their cell phones, visit,

On another cyber note, the American Academy of Pediatrics this month launched a book called "Cyber Safe: Protecting and Empowering Kids in the Digital World of Texting, Gaming and Social Media." Like CommonSense, the AAP knows social networking is here to stay. The book, by pediatrictian Dr. Gwenn Schurgin O'Keeffe, who also is the CEO of Pediatrics Now,, is a guide for parents to help teach their children how to safely use social media and cell phones. In press material that I received with the book, O'Keeffe debunks digital myths. Following are a three of those myths and O'Keeffe's responses:

Myth: Cell phones are fine for young kids.

O'Keeffe: When considering a first cell phone for any child, purpose is essential. Are you considering the phone because every other child has the phone, or is there a greater need such as a medical condition? The cell phone landscape is complicated today by cyberbullying and sexting. If you do not feel your child is old enough to discuss these issues and understand them, your child is not old enough for a cell phone. (She goes on to say that cell phones that are equipped or set up to only call are the most appropriate for younger kids.)

Myth: Social networking is dangerous.

O'Keeffe: Social networking can be safe and often is, if done thoughtfully, age appropriately and with a conscious following of stated age limits and privacy rules. Social networking becomes unsafe when parents allow tweens on sites not meant for tweens, such as Facebook or MySpace, and when parents are so uninvolved that young teens do not know how to manage their privacy settings or digital footprint.

Myth: All online "friending" is dangerous.

O'Keeffe: What we have to emphasize to our kids and teens is that rules of friendship off-line extend to the online world, including the act of friending. The best guideline is to only friend people you know and have a connection with off-line. Friending only becomes iffy when we add people to our lists who we don't know well or at all, and when we fail to set our privacy to "friends only" so that only our friends can see our posts, pictures, video and comments.

There is no doubt that teaching our children about safety in the 21st century includes cyber safety. We need to be informed and vigilant about their cyber movements just as we are about their real-time whereabouts and interactions.

For more on this topic, be sure to pick up The Intelligencer or Wheeling News-Register on Friday, Oct. 15, and look for the Life page. School Bells columnist Kathy Porter Shapell's column on the subject provides more insight into this timely topic.


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