I doubt there is a parent or 10-year-old who hasn't heard of "sexting"and the many dangers that may await children on the Web. Do your teens know what to do if they receive a nude photo of a friend or acquaintance? Talk about this before it happens. The last thing they should do is forward such a photo, as that can be considered sending child pornography.
If your child comes to you with this problem, you will need to decide whether to talk to the young person, parents, the school or police. Make sure your teens know how harmful this behavior is. You can find a good discussion about the topic at ConnectSafely.org.
Cybertipline.com (hotline is 800-843-5678) follows up on reports of suspected sexual images of youth online and gets the images removed.
Do you know what your children are doing online and with whom they are communicating? Use parental controls offered by your service provider or keep the computer in a room where you can see what is going on. Netsmartz411.org has a list of online acronyms, if you want to check the shorthand your kids are using. For example, WYRN = what's your real name.
Even if you know your kids are aware and careful not to reveal information about themselves, even if you monitor their computer use, do you know the seriousness of online behaviors that some kids may think of as simple pranks?
For example, it is illegal to use a phone or electronic messaging to harass someone with repeated contacts, or obscene or threatening language. It is also illegal to try to do harm by convincingly impersonating a real person on a website.
Cyberbullying -- using electronic communications to repeatedly taunt, torment, threaten or humiliate someone -- may result in suspension from school, the filing of criminal charges, or a civil lawsuit.
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StopCyberBullying.org offers advice directly to kids according to their age, and includes etiquette to help them learn how to use email safely and without endangering themselves or harming others. It covers things like thinking before you hit "send," not writing when you are angry, and forwarding emails only with permission. A family session on this site would be a great back-to-school activity.
Tampering with electronic information is another area where kids may not realize they can be committing a crime. The most obvious is pirating copyrighted material, such as music. It is also illegal to:
* use someone else's computer without permission;
* use a computer to fraudulently obtain money, property or services;
* damage computer systems;
* disrupt access to authorized users; or introduce contaminants or viruses to a computer. Films often make this kind of activity look like cool fun, but it is not fun to be accused of committing a crime.
If you have a child who is fascinated by computers, there are a variety of classes online in such things as programming and animation specifically for the younger set. Check with staff when school starts to see if there is a club or teacher who can give your child some direction in expanding his knowledge and use of computers in a safe and constructive way.