Digital Life

How to Keep Kids Safe from Online Predators

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Technology contributor Mario Armstrong talks with Farai Chideya about how to keep your kids safe online. Armstrong covers technology for Baltimore, Md., member stations WYPR and WEAA.

GORDON: I'm Ed Gordon, and this is NEWS AND NOTES.

Lots of kids know how to use the Internet, but what they may not know is how to keep themselves safe online. So what's a parent to do? NEWS AND NOTES tech contributor Mario Armstrong spoke with NPR's Farai Chideya about Web safety tips for kids, a subject that, for Mario, hits close to home.

FARAI CHIDEYA, reporting:

Let me start off with something a little personal. You've got a son, right?



CHIDEYA: How old?

ARMSTRONG: Three years old.

CHIDEYA: How old will he have to be before you train him to use the Internet?

ARMSTRONG: See this is tough, right, because I'm supposed to be the tech guru and all this. So I have all this electronics and technology around the house, and I, too, started at a young age, taking apart my Atari, which drove my parents crazy, after they'd spent their hard-earned money on it. So, it, three still seems to be a bit early, but you know, I know some of his friends at three and four, that are clicking away, jumping onto and other Web sites, surfing around with no problem. So the answer to your question is, I've been working with him slowly on allowing him to learn how to use technology, because he has to know how to use this tool, but I don't want it to be something that dominates his early childhood.

CHIDEYA: So if you have a kid who is old enough to use the internet, who knows how, what should you tell him or her about what not to do online, what information not to give out?

Mr. ARMSTRONG: If you find yourself in a situation where you're having an instant message conversation, and you may have accidentally jumped into a conversation you didn't mean to, you don't even want to give things like what time zone you're in, because that can help someone, a predator, try to drill down as to who you are and where you are; or your school mascot or sports teams; and the biggest one, the biggest offender of all, Farai, is photos. I cannot believe how many under-aged--I say under age because most of these sites say you have to be at least 14 years old in order to use them. But the sites have no way of checking whether that's valid or not. And these kids have their photos all over the internet just available in a public space.

CHIDEYA: Given that are there sort of little safe havens for kids on the internet sites that are really places where you're not going to get in danger as a child?

Mr. ARMSTRONG: The harsh reality--I wish I could say there was. There really isn't. The major search engines, all of the major search engines usually have a child friendly safe search engine. Like Yahoo has what's called Yahooligans or AskJeeve's has what's called So therefore you could know by using those safe search engine type sites, you'll get the appropriate material returned. By in terms of social networking, websites like MySpace, FaceBook, these sites that allow kids to chronicle their lives and socialize with friends, there aren't really any measures to really protect what type of content you may bump into, although the sites all say they don't allow nudity, but many other things can happen beyond just seeing nude photos.

And then one other tip for parents is a website that I like to share with them--outside of the government and the law what else can you do, is to go to a website called You can sign up and download what is called a parent/child Internet agreement, so you and your child have this agreement about how they will interact on line.

And then lastly, look into a site that's called learn net lingo, I think it's, so you can up to snuff on all the acronyms so you'll know what these acronyms are that these kids are talking about in these chatrooms.

CHIDEYA: Be able to speak your child language, that's the first step. And Mario Armstrong is News and Notes Tech expert. He also covers technology for Baltimore member station, WYPR and WEAA. Thanks again Mario.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Thank you, Farai.

GORDON: That was NPR's Farai Chideya.

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