School's out for summer

Memorial Day marks the beginning of summer for a lot of people, and that means enjoying some summer fun.

As pools around the country open their swimming lanes to school-aged kids looking to beat the heat now that school's out, and camps everywhere are welcoming students for the summer, it's important for parents to remember to teach their kids about staying safe, especially now that children and teens will have more unsupervised time on their hands and will come into contact with more strangers than usual.

For instance, encourage your younger children to memorize their full name, address and phone number, in case they get lost and need help finding their way home. Of course, it's equally as important to teach them never to accept rides or gifts from people they don't know; instead, they should find a police officer to help them in an emergency or learn how to call 9-1-1. Other basics apply like keeping the doors and windows locked when home alone; never opening the door to a stranger; never telling a caller or someone at the door they're home alone; knowing how to get out of the house in the event of a fire; keeping a list of emergency contact numbers; and probably most importantly, reminding your children that if something ever bad happens to them that they can always come to you, no matter what the circumstances.

But as we remind our kids to wear sunscreen and always go to the pool with a friend, parents should also set rules and guidelines for Internet usage, especially since 96 percent of all teenagers are online (with that high of a statistic, it's not hard to imagine how many of our nation's children will be spending the long, hot days of summer).

Of course, having more time to spend online may not be all bad…if parents choose to use this opportunity to highlight safety, and in some cases, learn it themselves.

It's important for parents to know that exploiting kids on the Internet is all too common as sexual predators attempt to groom and lure children into face-to-face meetings for reprehensible purposes. Even kids themselves exploit one another in chat rooms, social networking sites, virtual worlds and via text messages.

These are enormous problems for parents to combat, problems with hidden victims as these crimes are under-reported. But with a few easy guidelines, parents can help their kids navigate the Internet more safely.

First, keep an eye on who your child contacts and the amount of time your child spends online—it's summer after all, pull the bikes out of the garage, go hiking, host a neighborhood picnic, just turn off the computer and get to know one another all over again.

Second, when your child is on the Internet, monitor your child's activities by placing the computer in a family-friendly area in your house. Don't forget to also monitor other points of Internet access like cell phones and gaming consoles. And remember, monitoring software can be installed on a computer that allows you to view what websites your child visits, incoming and outgoing email, etc.

Third, review your child's online profiles to ensure they are not revealing personal details or information that might be used for the wrong reasons. Kids can unknowingly give out what could be dangerous information. Even if your child does not use a last name online, for instance, and never lists your address, they still leave clues to who they are, what they look like and how to find them.

Fourth, stress to your children that they should never physically meet anyone that they have only become friends with online.

Finally, encourage your children to talk to you about any inappropriate communication they might receive.

There is no one simple solution that can completely protect children from bullying, sexual predation and other online threats. The constant development of new Internet technologies requires constant awareness of the child safety implications of those innovations. With more than 77 million children nationwide using the Internet, we owe it to our kids to teach them online safety, and it is just as important for parents to learn the risks of the Internet in order to help their families have a safe and secure online experience. For additional safety tips, check out what Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway recently released.

Keep reading to learn more about SCP's interview with an innovative leader in the technology world who's working on products to make kids safer this summer and beyond, as well as legislative efforts to protect children in New Jersey and Louisiana.
As always, if you have any questions or comments you would like to share, you can reach me at srumenap@stopchildpredators.org or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Sincerely,
Stacie D. Rumenap
President