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The Online Mom provides internet technology advice and information to help parents protect their kids, encourage responsible behavior and safely harness the power of technology in the new digital world. Social networking, photo sharing, video games, IM & texting, internet security, cyberbullying, educational resources, the latest on tech hardware, gadgets and software for kids 3-8, tweens and teens, and more.

The Danger Signs

Digital technology and the Internet have become wonderful resources for education and entertainment. But perhaps nothing has been revolutionized by digital technology quite as much as our ability to communicate.

While the multiplex and TV can still give the Xbox and the Internet a run for their money as far as entertainment is concerned, a huge amount of our everyday communication now take place via the Internet, cell phones, or other wireless devices.

And thanks to texting, IM and e-mail, most of that communication is faceless and voiceless. For the most part, this isn't a problem. We may lament the passing of the well-written letter, or the weekly phone call with an old friend, but what we lose in intimacy we more than make up for in convenience, right?

Well, maybe.... Unfortunately, there are other sides to the convenience of electronic communication.

First, people are so seduced by the sheer ease-of-use and informality of texting and web-based communication that they regularly include information and opinions that they would never dream of putting in a letter or voicing face-to-face.

People can also hide behind a cloak of anonymity. It's easy to set up free anonymous e-mail and IM accounts and then just fire away - witness the rise of e-mail intimidation and cyberbullying.

Secondly, anyone can take advantage of the many free blogging services to set up a web site and spew forth opinions or any subject of their choosing - helpful, unhelpful, or positively harmful. There are web sites that glorify anorexia; that openly discuss teenage suicide; that encourage under-age sex....in fact, anything you can imagine is available with an Internet connection and a few clicks of a mouse.

So how do you know if your child is caught up in these issues? Here are some warning signs that teenage kids are having problems.

  • Is your child spending too much time alone or locked in his room?
  • Is he spending too much time online?
  • Is he reluctant to talk about online activities?
  • Is he reluctant to go to school or opting out of school activities? 
  • Is he showing rapid changes in personality - becoming withdrawn or argumentative?
  • Is he starting to hang out with a different crowd? Has he lost trusted old friends?
  • Is he getting phone calls from people you don't know or is he getting unexplained gifts?
  • Does he have money problems? Is he trying to borrow from friends or family?
  • Are there signs of tobacco, alcohol or drug use?

Again, these are not unique to technology, but if your child spends a lot of time online, there may be web-related issues that need to be addressed.

The best way to prevent or confront these problems? Communication. Your child should not only know that he can talk to you about anything, but you have to be committed to broaching topics of concern yourself.

Talk about some of the stories that have appeared in the newspapers or on the Internet. Discuss the web sites that you have seen or heard about. Tell them about your own experiences and fears when you were an adolescent; let them know that they are not alone, nor are their anxieties unique.

If you have trouble getting through to your teenager or the problems persist over a period of time, get help.

Comment by Monica Vila, posted 5/23/2011, 12:10 AM:

Sarah - how old are your kids?
Comment by sarah, posted 11/11/2010, 1:26 PM:

I need an advice on how I can talk to my kids about online safety. I am worried since they are reluctant to talk about online activities.
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