Internet Safety
And Privacy Check

The Internet has changed our lives, for better and for worse. Mostly for better, though. Social networking has brought us back in touch with long lost friends and allows us to stay connected to distant family. We can bargain hunt and look up information from, well, anywhere. Amid all that good and all that fun we have to teach our kids about Internet safety and privacy, making our children and teens aware of the risks -- along with the benefits -- of being digital citizens. And it starts with checking our own Internet safety.

Woman's hand on mouse

In the fun of the 'net, it can be easy to let appropriate boundaries and good practices slide. You're having so much fun catching up or debating or whatever it is you do online that you think, "I'll check those settings later." No, not later. You need to do it now -- so you can help your kids understand what it means to be online safely and enjoyably.

Check your settings

On every site you visit regularly, check your account settings. For any site that requires a login, check it. Check the account, the profile, the settings, or whatever they are called. Check what others can see about you at that site. Verify that the sites have the correct information, the correct privacy settings and that you understand the privacy settings. If there's a link to another page describing the privacy policy, or any other policy associated with the account, go read it. Yes, even the small print.

Change your passwords

Next, change all your passwords. Yup, do it. You know you have one or two -- or ten or twelve -- that aren't as strong as they could be. Particularly if you have some sites that have credit cards numbers saved as part of the account, you want to be sure the information is secure. Make sure that the passwords you choose are strong and that you can remember them. And never, ever use just one password for everything.

Google yourself

Doing the occasional search on yourself can be very helpful -- and sometimes scary! What will come up? Has that listserv flame war that you were involved in ten years ago turned up in search results? What about that nice letter to the editor of your local paper?

What is -- or isn't -- online about each of us is important to know. "Googling" is a part of our culture now, and friends and acquaintances do it as often as potential employers or others. We may not be able to change what is out there, but at least knowing what is there, what impression could be made by just a simple search is helpful and can help guide our future online interactions (or future damage control).

Remember the big picture

The most important thing for all of us to remember about our online life, and what we must model for our kids, is that what we put out there is out there forever. The Internet is like one giant public bulletin board and the power of that deserves our respect. We should be prepared for our prim and proper grandmother or our young children to see what we put out there.

The Internet is truly wonderful, but it needs to be handled with care. As an individual and as a parent, responsible digital citizenship is important and achievable with some care and attention.

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