Your preteen uses the Internet to do homework, chat with friends and just have fun. But do you know what else she’s doing online?  Since middle schoolers can often be moody and secretive, it can be tough to get your preteen to open up and talk about what she sees and does online.

Besides, she may feel like she’s old enough to handle whatever strange, scary things she encounters online. Or she may keep those things secret because she doesn’t want to feel like a baby by telling you about them. Either way, it’s vital that you keep tabs on her Internet use and that you know what she’s doing in cyberspace.

Here are some signs that your preteen may be at risk for online trouble:
  • She spends lots of time logged on, particularly at night. Kids who spend a great deal of time online (especially in chat rooms) are more likely to fall victim to online predators.
  • You discover pornography on her computer. Predators often lure kids into sexual relationships by sending them pornography. And even if no one sent her the images, the fact that you found them tells you she’s visiting inappropriate sites.
  • She shuts off the monitor as soon as you enter the room.
  • She withdraws from the family. Although some “pulling away” is normal for preteens, a total withdrawal isn’t.
To keep your preteen from getting into serious trouble online:
  • Talk to her about Internet dangers.
  • Keep the family computer in the living room or other place, not in you child’s bedroom.
  • Use filtering software to prevent her from visiting sites that are inappropriate.
  • Spend time with her online. Get to know her favorite sites.
  • Limit her computer usage.
  • Teach her never to give out personal information online.
  • Insist that chat rooms (if you decide to let her enter them) be kid-friendly and are monitored regularly. Source: “A Parent’s Guide to Internet Safety,” Federal Bureau of Investigation, Reprinted with permission from (c) 2007, The Parent Institute, a division of NIS, Inc.