Q. I have recently started to wonder what I should be doing to protect my child on the internet. Facebook, chat rooms and email all scare me a bit. I don't want to just give my child free access. Any suggestions?A. So many parents have the exact same question and it is something we should be talking about more. Bob Dewhurst, Vice President ABCH of Ministry Development has a great deal of experience in this area and will be answering your question.
"Thousands of investigations are launched annually across the U.S. related to child cyber predators, and the number is growing.
Internet communication tools such as social networking, chat rooms, e-mail and instant messaging can put children at potential risk of encountering online predators. Because of the anonymity of the Internet, children are susceptible to trusting and developing intimate relationships quickly. Predators take advantage of this anonymity. Often, children are unaware of the dangers.
Parents can help protect their children by knowing the risks and being involved in their Internet activities.
How do online predators find and develop relationships with children?
- Through social networking, blogs, chat rooms, instant messaging, e-mail, discussion boards and other Web sites.
- Knowing the latest music, hobbies and other interest of children.
- Listening to and showing sympathy concerning problems children are experiencing.
- Seducing children through attention, affection, kindness and even gifts.
- Attempting to ease the inhibitions of children by gradually introducing sexual content into conversation or possibly showing sexually explicit images.
- Trying to arrange a face-to-face meeting with the child.
How can parents and caregivers minimize the risk of children becoming victims?
- Talk to your children about potential dangers online and the risk of sex predators.
- Use parental control software.
- Ensure that limits on the use of social networking sites are followed. Most require the user to be at least 13 years of age.
- Young children should not use chat rooms - the dangers are too great. As children get older, direct them toward well-monitored kids' chat rooms. Encourage even your teens to use monitored chat rooms.
- If your children take part in chat rooms, make sure you know which ones they visit and with whom they talk. Monitor the chat areas yourself to see what kind of conversations take place.
- Make sure your children never leave the public chat room area. Predators may attempt to lure children to areas where one-on-one chats can occur. This is referred to as “whispering.”
- Locate your Internet-connected computer in a common area of your home where monitoring can easily take place. Do not allow Internet usage in a child’s bedroom.
- Young children should share an email address with the family instead of having their own address.
- Instruct your children not to respond to instant messages or emails from strangers. If your child uses a computer outside the home such as at a school or the library, learn about the safeguards that are used.
- If, after taking all precautions, your child does meet an online predator, don't blame them. The offender always bears full responsibility. Take decisive action to stop your child from any further contact with this person and contact the police.
How can children reduce the risk of becoming a victim?
- Don’t download pictures or files from an unknown source — they could be sexually explicit.
- Use e-mail filters.
- Tell an adult immediately if anything happens online that makes them feel uncomfortable or frightened.
- Choose a screen name that does not identify the gender of the user.
- Do not reveal personal information or information about the family to anyone online and do not fill out online personal profiles. This includes social networking sites such as Facebook, My Space and others.
- Stop any e-mail communication, instant messaging conversations, or chats if anyone starts to ask questions that are too personal or sexually suggestive.
What can be done if your child is being targeted?
- If your child receives sexually explicit photos from an online correspondent, or if she or he is solicited sexually in e-mail, instant messaging, or some other way online, contact your local police. Save any documentation including e-mail addresses, Web site addresses, and chat logs to share with the police.
- Check your computer for pornographic files or any type of sexual communication - these are often warning signs.
- Monitor your child's access for all live electronic communications, such as chat rooms, instant messaging, and e-mail.