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Survey: Parents say online safety is top concern, but not taking action

November 2, 2009
Times Observer
Parents worry about protecting their children from online predators. But some just aren't worried enough, it seems.

That's one conclusion online safety experts say can be drawn from a recent survey of parents by Panda Security, a security software maker. While more than half the parents polled rank online predators, pornography and violence as the biggest online threats to children, a quarter of those surveyed still never monitor their children's online activities.

"You could interpret these numbers to indicate that while generally parents are concerned about online threats to their children, they're not yet doing enough about it," says Sean-Paul Correll, a threat analyst with Panda.

Several highly publicized surveys have made online risks to children appear significant, while other studies seem to downplay the threats. Panda's survey found that just 7 percent of respondents reported they or their children have been a victim of an online attack. "But if it's your child viewing the inappropriate material or being approached by an online predator, all the statistics in the world are meaningless," Correll points out. "If your child is the one at SURVEY from page 48 risk, that's one too many."

When it comes to making children aware of online safety, it seems parents talk the talk - 71 percent in the Panda survey said they speak with their children about online safety. Yet just 32 percent were aware of available tools, like parental controls, that can help them protect children from online threats. Fourteen percent said they don't know who their child is talking to when they chat online and a stunning 48 percent don't know their child's online username.

While security software and parental controls can help protect children online, "safety is not just all about technology," Correll says. For example, antivirus suites such as Panda Internet Security 2010 help parents monitor access to inappropriate Web pages, but parents still need to be aware of - and involved with - their children's online activity.

Correll offers some sensible advice for parents seeking to pair security measures with practical parenting:

• Don't take a "command and control" approach or micromanage children's online behavior. Instead, emphasize communication and trust, and talk to your children about how to stay safe online. Talk to them about the sites they frequent, who they're chatting with online, what they like to view, social networking sites they use, and what online games they play. "You wouldn't let them leave the house without knowing where they're going and with whom, so you shouldn't let them access the Internet without knowing what they are doing," says Correll.

• Educate yourself and share your knowledge with your children. It's not at all unusual for kids to know more about the Internet than their parents. For this reason, it's important for parents to be aware of the tools that the Internet offers children, to know what the risks are, and how to avoid them.

• Set firm and clear rules about computer and Internet use. Establish a maximum online time and permissible uses of the Internet. Instead of setting up PCs in children's bedrooms, where they might be tempted to stray from the rules at night, put it in the family room.

• Forbid children from giving out personal information such as their real name, address, phone number or photos. Help them create screen names and secure passwords (that mix upper and lowercase letters and numbers) to prevent cyber-crooks or other malicious users from accessing their e-mail or messaging accounts.

• Teach your children to be wary of appearances, which can be especially deceiving on the Internet. They should be aware that the 14-year-old boy or girl they think they're chatting with may actually be a child predator.

• Install effective online safety solutions that are up to date. Activate the content filter so you can decide which pages your children can see and which are off-limits.

• Talk to other parents and use online resources like Twitter to connect with Internet security experts for good advice on articles and Web sites focused. Panda Security produced a video for YouTube, and parents are able to post their own video responses and keep the dialogue going about what kids are doing on the Internet and how parents are keeping them safe.

Courtesy of ARAcontent

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