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Online Sexual Predators
Instant messaging on a computer has become a phone for kids today. Children spend hours chatting online with their friends and sometimes with strangers. A recent study found that one in five children are approached by a sexual predator online, a predator who may try to arrange a face-to-face meeting.
· Predators have turned to the Internet to find their victims. By lurking in chat rooms and engaging in online conversations, Internet predators have the ability to disguise their identity. A 35-year-old man may pose as a 12-year-old girl, or a single mother in a chat room may actually be a married man.
· Predators are very good at extracting information. Many people, both adults and children, inadvertently give information about themselves to predators.
· Predators establish relationships with their victims. In some cases it lasts several months. While the predator proposes a meeting, the victim unsuspectingly and trustingly agrees to meet, sometimes never to be seen again.
Even random conversations can get a child into trouble without them knowing it. An online conversation might look something like this:
Poohbear105: We won our softball game today!
Dillan955: Congratulations! What team do you play for?
Poohbear105: I play for the Jonestown Wildcats.
Dillan955: Great, my team is the Centerville Sluggers, I play second base
Poohbear105: I play 3rd base
Dillan955: We haven’t started playing yet it’s too cold here in NE PA
Poohbear105: I hate the cold, so glad I live in FL
Dillan955: Can’t wait for Tuesday, it’s our first game
Poohbear105: Cool! I have a game on Tuesday too
Poohbear doesn’t realize it, but she just told Dillan what town she lives in and where she’ll be next Tuesday. She also told him which team he plays for and in which position. It is quite simple to find out the schedule of matches. Poohbear might have a visitor at his next game.
Most children know more about the Internet than their parents. This knowledge gap keeps parents in the dark about their children’s online activities. As the statistics below show, parental controls in cyberspace are dangerously weak:
· 20% of parents do not monitor their children’s internet usage at all.
· Only 52% of parents moderate their children’s Internet use.
· An estimated 62% of teenagers say their parents know little or nothing about their online activities.
· 71% of all parents stop monitoring their child’s Internet use after the child turns 14, not knowing that 72% of all missing children connected to the Internet are 15 or older.
Internet predators take advantage of the lack of responsible adult supervision of children using the Internet.
Your child may be in contact with an online predator if they show any of the following warning signs:
· Downloads photos of strangers
· Downloading pornographic images
· He is very secretive about his online activities and the people he talks to
· Quickly shuts down the computer or switches software applications when someone enters the room
· Receives unusual phone calls or gifts or letters in the mail
· Spends countless hours on the computer and his or her grades in school have dropped
· Spends unsupervised time in chat rooms
· Uses online accounts that you do not recognize or uses multiple e-mail addresses
· Visits websites dealing with death, destruction or other morbid topics
· Wait until other family members are asleep or out of the house before connecting to the Internet
It is crucial to monitor your child’s internet activities. Make sure you and your child know what to look out for on the web. Remember, because of the anonymity the Internet offers, the people you meet online may not be who they say they are. Encourage your children to never share personal information about themselves online.
Parents can protect their children by:
· Familiarize yourself with the web browser your children use and limit the type of content (violence, sex and language) that can be viewed.
· Create a password that allows only you to control your computer’s Internet settings, online content, and installable software.
· Do not allow your child to have multiple email accounts or create accounts without your knowledge. You can insist that your children give you their email and chat room passwords. Internet accounts and primary screens should be in your name.
· Do not allow your children to chat (send instant messages) while working on the computer.
· Emphasize that dangerous pedophiles use the anonymity offered by the Web to lure their victims.
· Encourage your children to create screen names and e-mails that do not reveal their personal information (name, age, school, etc.).
· Establish some rules for safe web surfers. Review the rules with your child and post them next to your computer.
· Go online with your children and find out who they are instant messaging and/or chatting with. Ban the use of private chat rooms as well as adult rooms.
· If you cannot establish yourself as an administrator of your computer, someone else is designated as an administrator. If the administrator is your child, you can regain control of your computer with your child’s user ID and password. When you become a new admin, you can control the internet content and websites your child has access to.
· Install an operating system that makes you an administrator (eg Windows XP or Mac OS X).
· Keep a computer in the family room so you can monitor their internet usage.
· Make sure you know the identity of everyone on their contact and/or friend lists.
· Make sure your child knows never to reveal personal information on the Internet (eg name, age, photos, gender, physical description, phone number, address, etc.).
· Set rules about which sites your children can and cannot visit. Enforce these rules and set time limits for computer use.
· Emphasize that the rules you set are to protect them, not to control them.
· Tell your children that you have the right to monitor their computer use and that if you suspect a problem, you will randomly monitor their Internet activities.
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