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This article is from the WebMD Feature Archive

Four dangers of the Internet

Protect your children from cyber bullying and exposure to sexual predators with these Internet safety tips from the experts.

WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Roger Henderson

More and more children are being targeted by bullies who use technology like e-mails, websites and text messages, reported the BBC’s children’s news programme, “Newsround”, in 2006.  It quoted a “four-year survey of more than 11,000 children” which it said, “found nearly 15% had received nasty or aggressive messages”.

In 2008 British newspapers reported on a tragic tale of 13-year-old Sam Leeson who allegedly hanged himself after being bullied for his taste in music and “alternative” clothes on a social networking site.  His father, Christopher, pleaded with other victims of cyber-bulling not to give in.  "Please talk to someone. Change your e-mail address and change your mobile”, he was quoted as saying in The Daily Telegraph.

No doubt, the Internet can be an extremely useful tool for young people. But instant messaging, chat rooms, e-mails and social networking sites can also bring trouble - from cyber bullying to more serious Internet dangers, including exposure to sexual predators.

How streetwise are you about keeping your child or teenager safe online? Follow these tips to protect your children from the 4 major dangers of the Internet.

Internet danger no.1: cyber bullying

On the Internet “you can receive unwanted and nasty e-mails," warns Kidscape, a charity with the motto “preventing bullying, protecting children”.  In addition you can “have something posted on a web site about you”.

Cyber bullying takes various forms, says Netsmartz411.org, an online resource that educates parents about Internet safety. Cyber bullying includes sending hateful messages or even death threats to children, spreading lies about them online, making nasty comments on their social networking profiles, or creating a website to make fun of their appearance or harm their reputation.

Some cyber bullies pose as their victims and send out harassing messages to others. Recently, cyber bullies have also begun posting humiliating videos of other children they dislike, says Parry Aftab, a cyberspace security and privacy lawyer who also serves as executive director of WiredSafety.org, one of the largest Internet safety education groups in the world.

In the age of YouTube, a website that hosts videos shot by users, "Children are looking for their 15 megabytes of fame," Aftab says. "They do it to show that they're big enough, popular enough, cool enough to get away with it."

Often, children don't tell parents they're being cyber bullied; they're afraid their parents will overreact or take away Internet privileges, Aftab adds. Her advice? If your son or daughter tells you, stay calm. If it's a one-time thing, try to ignore the bully and block future contact, she says. But if the cyber bullying involves any physical threat, you may need to call the police.

Some tips from Netsmartz.org for responding to cyber bullying:

  • To keep others from using their e-mail and Internet accounts, children should never share Internet passwords with anyone other than parents, experts say.
  • If children are harassed or bullied through instant messaging, help them use the "block" or "ban" feature to prevent the bully from contacting them.
  • If a child keeps getting harassing e-mails, delete that e-mail account and set up a new one. Remind your child to give the new e-mail address only to family and a few trusted friends.
  • Tell your child not to respond to rude or harassing e-mails, messages and postings. If the cyber bullying continues, call the police. Keep a record of the e-mails as proof.

 

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