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Family Fun

Keeping kids out of online mischief

For children who aren't careful with them, many digital devices, from cellphones to video games, can lead to life-changing legal woes. Bullying, sexting, hacking, illegal downloading and cheating are just some of the ways the misuse of technology has already landed some kids and their families in hot water.

Frederick S. Lane, an attorney and computer forensics expert, discusses these issues in "Cybertraps for the Young" (NTI Upstream). He advises parents to give their kids a solid lesson in cyberethics in light of a growing list of legal ramifications they can face when using their favorite gadgets. We spoke to Lane about the topic.

Q: Do parents face legal consequences when a child misuses devices?

A: From a legal perspective that really hasn't started to happen yet. You have seen a couple of lawsuits, in bullying cases, for instance, where parents of the victim are making a negligent supervision claim of parents of the bully. That, I think, is a warning of where things are going. Parents cannot assume that they will not face problems. Even if they themselves are not liable for what took place, they almost certainly are going to find themselves … paying their child's legal fees.

Q: How can parents stay proactive when kids have so much control over their own devices and privacy settings?

A: Parents should try to do whatever monitoring they think necessary to make sure their child is safe. That will definitely change as the child gets older and is more responsible. The other piece of it is that it really is all about communication. One of the things that I think is useful is to ask kids to explain how they use technology, which is a great opportunity to learn what they're doing and offer some guidance as to what the issues may be.

Q: Where do you draw the line between monitoring and making a child feel that his privacy has been invaded?

A: It's a total challenge. I think that you try to strike a balance, as kids get older, between their natural desire for more privacy, which is important to their development, and the need to educate them about standards of behavior and the risks that they face online. I think parents do have an obligation to do enough monitoring so that they can be comfortable that their child is not stumbling into trouble.

Q: Should parents also stay up-to-date on the latest technology trends?

A: It's really not about the technology; it's about the behavior. A lot of what I talk about in "Cybertraps" is designed to encourage parents to give their kids a good grounding in cyberethics and not worry so much about what technology they're using. The real focus for parents should be on helping their children develop appropriate standards of behavior that will apply to whatever device they use and not worry so much (about the technology).

Q: What should parents keep in mind when buying new devices for a child?

A: Make sure (you) really understand what the device does. For instance, a lot people end up being surprised that there's Internet-access capability for gaming consoles, which isn't necessarily the most highlighted feature, so you end up with a situation where kids can go onto social networks using that mechanism. The other thing to do is really network with other parents, particularly the friends of the child, because oftentimes the kids will be clustering around the same device.

Learn more

Frederick S. Lane's goal is to help parents educate themselves on the various issues and laws related to cybercrimes. To help them learn about the latest news and developments, Lane's book has a companion website, cybertrapsfortheyoung.com. "Then, once you know what the issues are you can start looking at the news sites … or some of the many family-safety websites that are out there as well that follow these issues," he says.

Also, the U.S. Department of Justice's Computer Crime & Intellectual Property Section works with schools, government agencies and private institutions to prevent and investigate cybercrimes. The department's website, cybercrime.gov, offers news, resources and legal information regarding cyber and intellectual property crimes. The site also offers a list of recent prosecuted computer crimes.

Copyright © 2015, CT Now
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