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Children's online activities include cell phones

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- When considering children's online activities, the cell phone is as equally important. Cell phones have evolved from simple communication devices to mobile, miniature computers.

For example, smartphones have operating systems similar to computers that allow users to download programs or "apps." These apps help users do things like access e-mail and play games. Also, most cell phones allow users to download and upload content from the internet just as they would on a computer. However, cell phones can be more difficult to monitor than a computer, and children often use them without adult supervision. Parents need to become aware of the following risks before allowing their children to own cell phones

Cyberbullying
Cell phones make it easy for children to communicate with their friends, also makes them vulnerable to cyberbullying. Cell phones can be used at anytime and anywhere, giving cyberbullies unlimited access to their victims. Children may send and receive mean-spirited phone calls, texts, and pictures at any hour.

Grooming
Predators take advantage of the fact that cell phones let them talk with their victims at any time. They are also aware parents and guardians often forget to monitor children's cell phones. Predators may send children cell phones and ask them to keep the phones a secret. They can then talk to and exchange text messages and pictures with children without close monitoring by parents and guardians. Others may ask children for their cell phone numbers after meeting them online or try to connect with willing children by sending texts to random numbers.

Sexting
"Sexting" is a term used to describe the sending of sexually explicit text messages or pictures of minors by minors. What most young people do not realize is the production, possession, and distribution of explicit photos of minors, even if they are self-produced, may be illegal. Furthermore, if these explicit photos end up on the internet, children may be taunted by their peers and jeopardize scholastic, athletic, and employment opportunities.

Geolocation Data
Most smartphones have GPS technology that allows the user's precise location to be pinpointed by apps and on websites. Social networking sites such as Foursquare, GoWalla, and Facebook take advantage of this technology by encouraging their users to "check-in" or share their locations. A "check-in" can be shared with a list of friends, so make sure to know who is on a child's friends list before allowing them to use this type of technology. Children also may share their locations unintentionally through pictures taken with their smartphones; these photos often have geolocation data embedded in them. Consider disabling the location services on smartphones before allowing children to post photos online.

The internet has drastically changed the way children interact with the world. They have access to in-depth knowledge, tools to express their creativity, and people from all over the world. Yet along with offering a fascinating, new way to connect with the world, the internet also offers new risks.

Learning to recognize the warning signs of these risks will allow trusted adults to intervene and lessen potential negative impacts. By acting as a resource, parents and guardians can help make the internet a safer place for their families.

As a parent or guardian, stay well-informed about current issues to understand what children are experiencing on and off the internet. If they are social networking, instant messaging, using webcams, or blogging, help them use these tools safely by first learning how to use them. Children whose parents and guardians regularly talk to them about personal safety are more likely to exhibit responsible behavior on their own.

For more information please go to:    http://www.netsmartz.org/Parents

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