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Email

There are two dangers when it comes to e-mail. First, someone may try to communicate with your child via e-mail. It could be something innocent, it could be a form of "spam" (unsolicited commercial e-mail), or it might be a message from someone who is trying to lure your child into an inappropriate relationship. If you suspect that the latter is the case, and that your child's physical safety is in danger, you may wish to contact law enforcement.

Any mail from a stranger, even if it's innocent, can be disturbing to some children, which is why it's a good idea for parents to monitor their young children's e-mail. That's not to say that kids, at some point, shouldn't have their privacy, but parents need to decide when privacy is appropriate and when it's best to keep an eye on their e-mail.

"Spam," or electronic "junk mail" is designed to get people to buy something, visit a Web site, or take some other action. People who send out spam often have no way of knowing who the recipient is, and it's not uncommon for inappropriate messages to find their way to children. One of the most disturbing types of messages are those that promote sexually explicit Web sites and include links to those sites. It's very difficult to stop these types of messages and, unfortunately, asking the sender to stop sending them doesn't always work. Many spammers don't ever see the response you send in (they would be overwhelmed with mail if they actually looked at it), and some who actually invite you to write back to "remove" yourself from their list fail to honor such requests. In some cases, spammers actually consider a remove request to be a validation that they sent their spam to a real e-mail address, which causes them to send more -- not less -- to your e-mail box.

Some online services and Internet providers have tools to help you block spam, and many e-mail programs have blocking tools as well. You can try these tools, but they don't always work because people who send spam often disguise themselves and keep changing identities so they can get past the spam filters.

Your best defense is to tell your children not to open mail from strangers or, if they do open mail, not to click on any links, respond, or take any action without checking with their parents.

Another danger from e-mail is that your child can send out information that could put him or her or other people in jeopardy. The basic rules of safety -- not giving out personal information -- apply to e-mail as well as other areas of the Internet. Children should never send a photo of themselves via e-mail to anyone without checking with their parents to be sure it's safe.

 
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