Technology Divide Putting Nation's Kids at Risk?

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America's youngest generation appears to be experts when it comes to the latest technology.

From cell phone apps and Facebook to iPads and iPhones, parents like Tiffany Shortridge are finding it hard to keep up.

Although Shortridge uses technology on a regular basis, she says even that isn't always enough when it comes to keeping up with her son, Anthony.

"I use the Internet and the computer pretty often because I go to school," Shortridge explained. "But there are certain things that I don't even know exist that I'll hear him talk about and I'll have to ask him because I don't know what he's talking about."

Shortridge is not alone in this. In a recent study, Internet security company AVG found that almost half of today's children, ages six through nine, use the Internet. Yet 58 percent of their parents admit that they are not familiar with the sites their children use.

"More kids can access the Internet today then can ride a bike," AVG's president said. "It's just there's statistics that really point to the fact that young children growing up, all they know is access to the Internet. They can touch screens on an iPad or like device - it's very easy for them to navigate."
    
But while children may be quick to pick up on the latest technological skills, many are too young to be aware of the threats that come along with it.

"I think parents do need to be concerned about their children's online safety. Kids are growing up more in kind of a social arena where information is more public. They don't necessarily know better," AVG's president said.

Experts say the important thing is not to keep children from technology...but to make sure they aren't trying to navigate their way through it alone."

For Shortridge and her son, it's about trust and some good old fashioned rules.

"There has to be a lot of trust between he and I, that he knows what he's allowed to do on the Internet and that I believe that he's going to do it and that he's going to be honest with me about what he's dealing with," she said.

"I don't let him have alone time in his bedroom with the computer," she said. "If he's ever going to search anything, like Google anything, he has to ask us. He has 30 minutes of Internet or TV in the evenings and then on the weekends he only gets an hour a day."

Bob Waliszewski, director of Plugged In Online, says that a little tough love can help keep your children safe.

"Parents have to be in that world they have to know where their kids are, and I think its okay to snoop a little too," he said.
    
Shortridge says she appreciates how far technology has come and the opportunities that her children will have because of it. But she's also prepared to do what it takes to protect them from it.

"I think the days of some people being into technology and some people not are kind of over, so necessity requires that I keep up," she said.

"Today you can't 'not' access the Internet," she continued. "It's really part of the fabric of their childhood so let's just make sure that that's safe."

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Caitlin Burke

Caitlin Burke

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