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Back to school safety tips and resources

As the summer comes to a close and children are getting ready to return to school, I am providing important safety tips and resources for parents on the Internet, cyber bullying and sex offenders. Parents should be proactive when it comes to protecting their children in our community.
I believe it is vital to stay involved in your child’s life. What activities are they involved in? Who are their friends? How much time are they spending on their computer or smart phone? What are they able to access on their computer or smart phone?
Technology has advanced in the past decade where most parents and children alike have cell phones capable of accessing the Internet and taking photographs. Popular sites for children to communicate with others include Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Kik.
Parents should speak with their children about the dangers of taking sexual photos and sharing them with others. Once a photograph is shared with others, it can be posted on websites or even altered. Internet predators are sophisticated and prey on our children. Be proactive in monitoring your child’s text messages, emails, photographs, Internet and cell phone activity.
For information on how to protect your family from inappropriate websites, including parental controls to minimize a child’s access to certain websites: http://www.opendns.com/home-internet-security/.
It is also important for families to know where a registered sex offender is living in their community.
Fortunately, this information is easily accessible. Parents can find this information at The North Carolina Sex Offender Registry (http://sexoffender.ncdoj.gov/disclaimer.aspx). They can also sign up to receive email alerts when a sex offender registers at an address near your residence or your child’s school by visiting http://signup.ncdoj.gov/default.aspx or receive telephone alert notifications by calling 1-877-627-2826. A sex offender registry app is available for users of Apple and Android: http://ncdoj.gov/mobilesor.aspx.
According to netsmartz.org, about one-third of online teens, ages 12-17, have been cyberbullied, and girls are more likely to be targeted than boys. Bullying can quickly spiral out of control and negatively affect a child emotionally, physically and mentally. What should you do if you believe your child is being bullied on the Internet or at school? Contact the school administration and law enforcement immediately. Beginning this year, additional school resource officers will be in many of our schools. Take the time to introduce yourself to your child’s school resource officer.
For concerns involving cell phones, cyberbullying, chat rooms, file sharing, gaming, Internet safety, webcams, predators, social networking and sexting: http://www.netsmartz.org/Parents.
For subjects including Internet safety, safer social networking, online predators and computer stalking and bullying: http://www.ncdoj.gov/Protect-Yourself/Protect-Children.aspx.

Brandy L. Cook is Rowan County district attorney.

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