cyberguideEditor’s note: Tracy is McAfee’s Cyber Security Mom, and she has teamed up with our very own Jay Opperman to spread the word about the Cyber Summer Safety Challenge. This is Tracy’s first guest blog post here at Comcast Voices.

As McAfee’s Cyber Security Mom, this has been an exciting month for me! I got the chance to team up with Comcast to jump start conversations with the Cyber Summer Safety Challenge. We have made it really easy for you and your kids to start learning about online safety today. Simply print off the pledge (click here to learn more), read it through with your son or daughter and let the conversations begin!

This summer, more kids than ever will be spending time online and most likely on social networking sites. With the economy being so tough, spending time online may be the only surfing they do. So before your kids get really bored and start surfing more than usual you may want to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you know what social networking sites your kid, tween or teen are spending time on?
  • Do you know who they interacting with online?
  • Do you know what information they are posting on these sites?

According to a McAfee/Harris interactive poll, more than half of teens have talked to a stranger online. Some teens today understand that the strangers they meet online are not to be trusted, but many still do not have the skills or are mature enough to stay safe. There are products like, McAfee Family Protection, that record and alert parents when inappropriate or personal information is posted to social networking sites, but the instant messaging programs and social networking sites can still give teens a false sense of security when they post content.

Tweens and teens will be using social networking sites, such as MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter, a lot this summer. Club Penguin and Webkins are great sites tailored for the younger users.

Do you have a page on one of these sites? If not, you should – if for no other purpose than to "friend" your tween or teen and learn how they work so you are more informed when you talk to them about internet safety. These sites at best can be a great way to keep in touch with friends and family. At worst, they could put your teen’s reputation or safety in danger.

Here are some things to talk to your kids about before, during and after they join a social networking site(s):

  1. Privacy is key. Have your kids set up the privacy settings so their page is not seen by everyone on the internet? Try "Googling" their name in quotes and check out the search results. If you can see their entire MySpace page then so can everyone else, including that ranting blog about how mean their science teacher is. Also show them what you are able to see (as well as their science teacher) and tell them to keep their privacy settings updated on all of their networking pages.

  2. What goes online stays online. This pertains to everything your teen (and you for that matter) does on the internet. Remind them to think before they post. What will they think if that picture is seen by their principal, a college recruiter, a possible employer or their pastor? Will that blog, photo or tweet from the party Saturday night get them or one of their friends suspended from the swim team or sent around by bullies? Email and instant messaging chats can also get forwarded on without permission. Even when you delete something, it doesn’t mean that someone doesn’t already have a copy somewhere else to spread through the web.

  3. "When online, kids should be polite, but they don’t have to be nice" - Linda Criddle, founder of LOOKBOTHWAYS, Inc. When she told me this phrase, I thought it was perfect advice for parents to pass on to their kids. I have told my kids that they never have to interact with a random person who has tried to contact them. If they don’t know who that person is, they don’t owe them any type of courtesy. Kids also seem to think posting mean things about each other is normal. I have told my kids that this is not normal and certainly not okay – for them to do to others or for others to do to them.

  4. Pa$$w0rds should be easy to remember and hard to guess. As kids get older they need to be taught to have more than one password and they should never share that password with anyone. Friends today can sometimes get mad or not be friends tomorrow. Even the littlest of kids can understand that they wouldn’t want their Club Penguin points stolen. Using numbers and symbols in place of letters is a good way to make passwords secure. Tell teens to use "leet speak" (1337 $p3@k) to make their passwords tricky.

  5. Never post personal information online. Kids need to know that it is never ok to post a home address, name of their school or phone numbers online.

Parents, I think the key message is to talk to your kids early and often as they grow and explore the internet. By starting friendly conversations with kids early means they are more likely to come to you when they slip up. Small corrections along the way are easier than having the discussion with your teen about the blogs, chats or pictures that prevented them from getting into their college of choice.

Each pledge in the Cyber Summer Safety Challenge can spur great conversations with kids that may even give them the opportunity to teach you a thing or two about the internet. :) So join us today and take the pledge!