Nearly half of all children and teenagers have received e-mails with links to X-rated Web sites, and nearly two-thirds of them have received relationship-oriented e-mails including how to meet singles online, according to a survey released this month.

Conducted for the California-based Symantec, which specializes in Internet security technology, the survey underscored the importance of parents communicating with their children about their Internet use. The survey, conducted online by a market research firm, interviewed 1,000 youth from 7 to 18 years old.

More than 80 percent, roughly four out of five youngsters surveyed, said they receive inappropriate e-mail on a daily basis. How does it make them feel? They said such e-mail makes them annoyed (51 percent), uncomfortable (34 percent), offended (23 percent) and curious (13 percent).

“As with any e-mail user, kids are just as susceptible as adults to being bombarded by spam advertising inappropriate products and services, such as Viagra and pornographic materials,” according to Steve Cullen, Symantec’s senior vice president of consumer and client product delivery, quoted in a press release discussing the survey’s findings. “Parents need to educate their children about the dangers of spam and how they can avoid being exposed to offensive content or becoming innocent victims of online fraud.”

That advice may be particularly important because the survey found that more than one out of three children (38 percent) do not tell their parents when they received e-mail that leaves them annoyed, uncomfortable, offended or curious. More than one out of five (22 percent) said their parents have never talked to them about spam.

About one in every five children (21 percent) said they open and read spam, particularly if the subject line interests them (16 percent). Nearly nine out of 10 youngsters said they have heard of spam; nearly a third said they don’t know whether spam is good or bad for them.

Nearly half (46 percent) said they do not get their parents’ permission before giving out their personal e-mail addresses to friends or even to people unfamiliar to them. Almost one in three said it’s not important to always have their parents check e-mails with them; another 21 percent said they don’t care, and 16 percent responded that they don’t want their parents looking over their shoulders. Three out of four (76 percent) of the surveyed youth have at least one personal e-mail account.

Other findings included that four our of five respondents are bombarded by sweepstakes messages; nearly two out of three (61 percent) see finance-related spam offering cut-rate mortgages or homes for sale; more than half (55 percent) receive weight-loss messages; and one out of two (51 percent) receive pitches for pharmaceutical sales, such as offers to “buy herbal Viagra online.”

What can parents do to protect their children? Symantec offered five suggestions for parents who want to increase their involvement in limiting their children’s exposure to spam e-mails.

–Communicate with your children. Let them know that they can confide in you when they see or read something on the Internet that bothers them.

–Teach children to never give out personal details to anyone on the Internet. Symantec warned that malicious e-mailers will target children to obtain private information.

–Maintain trust with your children. If you overprotect your kids, they’ll think you don’t trust them. Make sure they understand your intentions for watching over them.

–Know your children’s friends. Your kids can access the Internet at their friends’ homes. Talk to the parents of your children’s friends so you can work together to provide a safe Internet environment for all your offspring.

–Check e-mails with your children.

Michael Leathers is a journalist in Springfield, Ill.

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