Youth sitting on table

Esther Crain, Writer

‎August‎ ‎12‎, ‎2015

If your child has a phone or a tablet, then you’re probably worried, too.

It used to be that when parents worried about their kids’ health, it was mostly about things like smoking and teen pregnancy.

But these days, digital safety issues have left those problems in the dust. Parents now rank Internet safety as the fourth-biggest childhood health threat they worry about, according to the 2015 C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll, an annual survey, released on August 10.

Sexting is another major concern. Finding out that their kids shared naked or suggestive images of themselves with others online — or having their children’s private photos become public against their wishes — ranked as parents’ sixth-biggest worry. (Last year, sexting was ranked 13th.)

Childhood obesity, bullying, and drug abuse were the top three parental concerns, the survey reported. Child abuse came in fifth, and smoking, school violence, teen pregnancy, and stress rounding out the top 10.

“The increasing level of concern about Internet safety and sexting that are now ranked even higher than smoking as major childhood health issues really dominates the story this year,” poll director Dr. Matthew Davis, a professor of pediatrics and internal medicine in the child health evaluation and research unit at the University of Michigan Medical School, said in a news release.

The results suggest that parents feel they are on shaky ground when it comes to understanding digital threats and knowing what their kids are doing online. “Parents are dumbfounded to hear that their child has been bullied online or is involved in bullying someone else,” Parry Aftab, a digital privacy and security lawyer and founder of Stop Cyberbullying, tells Yahoo Parenting. “And they’re clueless about sexting.”

But you don’t have to be digitally savvy to help keep your kids safe online, says Aftab. Protect them with these ground rules all kids, tweens, and young teens should follow.

Teach them to never post personal information. Addresses, phone numbers, school names, family members’ phone numbers — having these out there on the Internet in any way can jeopardize a child’s safety, says Aftab, because child predators and other types of creeps look for this information.

Keep them off social media until age 13. Under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule, social media companies don’t allow kids younger than 13 to sign up for accounts, and it’s smart to obey that rule, says Aftab.

Make sure all privacy settings are used. When your children are old enough to join Instagram or Facebook, don’t just ask them if they’ve set the privacy controls to the highest level; have them show you on all their social media accounts, says Aftab.

Remind kids not to share passwords. “A password is a powerful weapon, allowing someone to get into your child’s accounts and impersonate him or her,” says Aftab, who says that surveys show 70 percent of kids give their passwords to their friends, not realizing how damaging that can be.

Do a phone spot-check. Every so often, ask your child to show you her photos or recent texts. “This lets you see if he or she has sexting images on her phone, or if bullying is going on,” says Aftab. Don’t feel like you’re spying; you’re only viewing it with your child’s knowledge, and such checks should be an established rule when you agree that your child can have a phone in the first place.

Agree to help them if they’re in danger online. “The most important safety move,” says Aftab, “is to sit down with your kids and tell them that if they are ever bullied or find themselves the victims of sexting extortion or some other online behavior, that they can come to you and you’ll help them.”

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