Protect Your Child from Online Dangers the 'Cyber Dad' Way

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When it comes to adults and the Internet some understand it, some don't. But, when it comes to grade schoolers and the Internet, they get it, often more than their parents.

That can be a serious problem because some of the adults that get the Internet, those that know their way around MySpace (NWS) for instance, are cyber-predators who use their Internet knowledge for evil.

Now, however, there's Cyber Dad, the technology guru-slash-dad who is on a crusade to educate kids and parents about the dangers of the Internet.

Also known as Todd Thiemann, Cyber Dad's day job is working on emerging technologies and encryption at Trend Micro, a consumer software company in Cupertino, Calif. He is also the father of two kids, ages 12 and 14. So, Thiemann knows that with summer upon us, kids are now free time to peruse the Internet 24/7. Parents should therefore act now to learn how to protect their little surfers. To that end Thiemann and his company are volunteering their time to work with Connect Safely and Childnet International, two nonprofits that promote safe computing.

Thiemann is quick to say that every parent has his or her own ground rules. True, there is no cookie cutter method to parenting. But there are key precautions that will protect your children, as well as the personal information that exists on your PC. (See MainStreet’s story on how to avoid the Web’s most dangerous domains.)

PUT THE FAMILY COMPUTER IN A PUBLIC SPACE.
“It’s not like you’re peering over your kid’s shoulder all the time, but having it in the open rather than in a dark corner is a better way to monitor what’s going on,” says Thiemann. And, if you purchase a desktop computer it will be easier to keep it in one space than a portable laptop,. The strategy even has an upside your video gamer will appreciate: “It’s much more fun to play games on a beefy machine than on a laptop in the bedroom.”

EDUCATE YOUR KIDS ABOUT WHAT IS NOT OKAY TO DISCLOSE ONLINE
Sharing passwords is common place amongst young people so it is important to teach them it’s not acceptable to use friends’ passwords to impersonate them online, says Thiemann. “Kids like sharing passwords because it’s a sign of trust,” he says. “You might get older and recognize sharing your ATM pin is a bad idea, but when you’re young it’s how you signify who is your best buddy.”

WARN AGAINST CYBER BULLYING

Middle and high school is a difficult time socially. Bullies and nasty gossip still happen, but with cell phones and instant messenger (TWX) and Facebook there’s a whole new playground and all that comes with it. “Cyber bullying is something you have to frown on and teach your kids it’s not okay and feelings get hurt,” says Thiemann. “Kids take their signals from the adult, so you need to say, ‘No you don’t create fake profiles and you don’t diss your friends. That’s not cool.’”

ELECTRONIC PATHWAYS CAN BE JUST AS DANGEROUS AS BACK ALLEYS
It’s a leap for people to understand that real world and the Internet are the same thing when teaching their kids about potential dangers. But rules that apply when you hang out at the mall, can apply online, too. “You need to educate your kids that they don’t always have to acknowledge or respond when some stranger approaches them on the Internet, just like you don’t talk to strangers on the street,” says Thiemann.

UPDATE YOUR SECURITY SOFTWARE
Security software often is only good for a year. Not renewing the annual subscription puts your computer at risk for viruses and spyware. “If you don’t keep it updated you don’t have real protection because the threats are always changing and security software vendors are always updating their stuff,” says Thiemann. “If you’re using cable or DSL, Microsoft (MSFT) has a firewall, Apple (APPL) has a firewall, but there are also third party firewalls that provide more security. It also provides URL filtering, which for kids can be quite important if you want to screen pornography, gambling or hate.”

Helping your kids from the time they start logging on will make sure they have a better and safer computing experience. “If you’re the dictator they’re going to shut you down and not listen to what you have to say,” says Thiemann. “That said, have some firm rules because your job as a parent isn’t to be their best buddy, but to raise them properly.”

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