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Protecting Kids Online

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Guest blogger Michelle Kemper Brownlow: We hear it over and over: "Monitor what your child is doing online!" It's a huge job, especially when every Tom, Dick and Harry can start a website and funnel your kids to it. For what? Who knows. We hope for the best, don't we?

kid using computer
Some people truly have an invested interest in children who have nowhere to turn. These sites are run by reputable adults. They are teachers, authors and speakers who inspire teens to be the best they can be on a daily basis. Some great sites that are perfect for the kids who struggle to connect and fit in are: 

But there are sites out there that celebrate causing melees and drama amongst teens. Let's be honest: Melees and drama are typically what teens thrive on. But there is no right side to either of those conditions. Websites to watch out for: 

Formspring.meThis site is similar site to Twitter or Facebook in the "connection" category, but it's easier to remain anonymous on Formspring than on the others. Its question-and-answer style platform lends itself to humiliation and bullying

U.S. News reports, "While Formspring is still under the radar of many parents and guidance counselors, over the last two months it has become an obsession for thousands of teenagers nationwide -- a place to trade comments and questions like: "Are you still friends with Julia? Why wasn't Sam invited to Lauren's party? You're not as hot as U think U are. Do you wear a D-cup? You talk too much. You look stupid when you laugh." By setting up a free Formspring account and linking it to their Tumblr, Twitter or Facebook accounts, young people invite their hundreds of online friends to ask questions or post comments without having to identify themselves. In part, Formspring is just the latest place to hang out and exchange gossip, as teenagers have always done. But because of the anonymity, the banter is unvarnished." 

There are plenty of bullying and suicide cases tied to Formspring. A great book to check out is "Teen Cyberbullying Investigated," by Thomas Jacobs, J.D. 

Another dangerous site is Chatroulette.com. It is what it says it is: "chat roulette." Well, we know that the Russian version of roulette is deadly, and let me tell you: It is safe to assume that the same is possible with this video chat-based phenomenon. Experts say that this is a dangerous platform and parents need to be aware of the dangers not only from bullying but also from predators. This site is heaven for vouyeurs. Ick. Gwenn O'Keeffe, the author of the new book "CyberSafe: Protecting and Empowering Kids in the Digital World," reports that Chatroulette is the inspiration for some similar knock-off sites such as JayDoe.net, Zupyo.com and CamCarousel.com -- all of which parents should watch out for. 

Skinnydears.webs.com is just one of many sites that show kids how to become anorexic. Just Google the terms "pro ana" or "pro mia," and you will find lists and lists of sites that feature skin-and-bone girls and tips on how not to eat. ("Pro-ana" and "pro-mia" are underground terms for promoting anorexia and bulimia.) If you suspect that your daughter has either of these disorders, call a professional now. Also, grab the book "Wintergirls" by Laurie Halse Anderson, and read it today. It will scare you silly, but will also give you a peek inside the mind of a child haunted by compulsions to be thin. 

Of course, as parents, we need to monitor everything our children do online. We need to make sure we are dialoguing about things we see on the news about cyberbullying and the like. Sometimes we shelter our children so their worlds won't be littered with hate and death, suicide and cutting, but when they turn to the World Wide Web, sheltering them is only hurting them. Be aware of what your children put on Facebook and Twitter. Know who they are friending -- and keep them safe.


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3 comments so far | Post a comment now
Judge Tom December 11, 2010, 11:25 AM

Thanks for recommending “Teen Cyberbullying Investigated.” Once our youth are aware of the consequences of harmful posts, cyberbullying will be less of a threat. All the teens interviewed for this book stated they didn’t set out to harm anyone. They just didn’t think beyond the moment about what could happen once they hit “send.” Hopefully other teens can learn from their experiences.
Respectfully, -Judge Tom.

Jessabug December 11, 2010, 9:59 PM

skinnydears.webs.com has been shut down. at least temporarily.

Natalie December 14, 2010, 12:35 PM

Great tips and recommended resources. Thank you!


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