One in four children in chat rooms on the Internet will be solicited by a child predator. These pedophiles seek a target-rich environment for finding their prey, and the Internet has become their flocking ground. To ensure that your children and household are safe from the threat of these predators, consider these tips from Detective James Brown, officer in charge of the LAPD's Sexually Exploited Child Unit:
Never, ever leave your child alone in a room with a computer connected to the Internet.
Any Internet-connected computer should be in the community part of the house. It should only be used when parents are home and monitoring their children's activity on the computer. Think about it like this; Would you ever let a stranger go up to your child's room and talk to them alone for four hours? Would you ever leave your child alone in a park and come back four hours later? It is a myth that a child on a computer at home is safe. At the least, they may be exposed to sexually explicit materials, and at the worst, they can be lured by an Internet pedophile.
Parents should educate themselves on basic computer knowledge.
Parents should be the ones to set up all Internet accounts and passwords. Make sure you know your child's account name and password. You should also be aware if any other e-mail accounts your child may have. Take the time to learn about Internet filters, firewalls, monitoring software and other tools. Use your browser history, cache and cookies to find out what sites your kids have been visiting. Enter their names, including nicknames, into popular search engines to see if they have public profiles on social networking sites. Do the same with your address and phone number. You might be surprised by how much of your personal information is online!
Locking certain computer sites doesn't work.
Computer filters don't work for chat rooms, and there are no blocks for the chat rooms. There is software to monitor a child's activity, but not their chat activity.
Parents should be cautious if a child suddenly closes a browser window on the computer when the parent enters the room, or if the child doesn't want the parent to see what they are working on. If the parent questions what the child is looking at, they should go to the computer and click the back button on the tool bar or lean over and look closely at the computer screen. Parents should also be aware of pictures coming in over the computer.
Never, ever give out personal information over the Internet.
This is a good practice for both children and parents. It makes it easy for people to find out about you if you have provided them with any personal information. If you have to give some information, only give your state identification. Never give out your city, birthday, name, or school you attend.
Children should never upload a picture of themselves to the Internet.
They should also never e-mail a picture to this new person. Once the picture leaves your computer you have lost control of what can be done with the picture. A predator can do anything they want with it.
Make sure you have open lines of communication with your children.
Oftentimes kids are communicating with strangers because there is no communication in the house. Have open discussions with your children so they feel comfortable talking with you. They should know that if they receive material that bothers them or is inappropriate, they should bring it to their parent's attention so it can be reported to local law enforcement. They need to feel comfortable doing this.
Many times children feel they did something wrong or something they weren't supposed to do, so they think they will lose computer privileges because of this. It is important for them to know that they can bring it to their parents' attention without getting in trouble.
Parents and children should visit Netsmartz.org to help start family discussions and conversations. This site is supported by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
If you suspect your child is in trouble, look for these signs:
A child that starts to act differently, withdrawn, getting bad grades or spending a lot of time on the Internet. Many times children will think they have found their new "best friend," and they believe that this person will rescue them from their doldrums. If gifts start arriving at the home, this should also be a clue that something is not right. If your family starts receiving phone calls from people you don't recognize, this could mean there are serious problems. Either the child gave the predator your phone number, or the predator found it out. This can signify a threat to your child as well as the entire family, especially if the predator knows where you live.
If you suspect your child could be the victim of an Internet pedophile, call your local law enforcement agency. You can also visit Cybertipline.com, which will direct you to an agency in your area, or Missingkids.com, which is a national center for missing and exploited children. For more information for you and your child to be safe on the Internet, visit Netsmartz.org.TELL DR. PHIL YOUR STORY: Kids in Crisis?