Protect Your Child from Internet Predators

Recently I found myself giving my 13 yr. old son permission to meet a 13 yr. old female he had met on Myspace at the local mall. That was before I came to my senses. I could not believe that I had told him that it would be o.k. This coming from a trained Police Officer who has worked Internet exploitation cases. I have taught classes to parents on how to protect their children from internet predators. I should know better. That was before I remembered the case I worked about three years ago of the 16 yr. old boy who was lured to an open field and raped by one of these predators. I thought to myself, there is no way I am going to drop my child off at the mall to meet someone he had chatted with on Myspace. Someone whom I have never met nor met the parents. That brings me to the reason I wrote this article.

Even with all my experience with Internet exploitation cases, I could have made a mistake and put my child at risk. As parents, we must practice what we preach and stay in tune with our children's activities on the internet. It is because my son and I have a good relationship that he told me about this supposed (girl) he was to meet.

I took this moment to talk to my son about the fact that people are not always who they say they are on the internet and discussed my concerns with him. To my surprise he agreed and chose to let me take him to her house, so that I could meet her and her parents.

Blogs and Social Networking Sites

Recent incidents involving Internet crimes against children have been prominent in the media. In some incidents, the crimes have involved suspects and victims who met each other on social networking or blogging sites such as MySpace, Friendster, Xanga, and Facebook.

Blogs and social networking sites where people can meet, communicate and interact have recently exploded in popularity. The number of visitors to MySpace went from 4.9 million in 2005 to currently more than 67 million. Like most new technological developments, this brings both positive and negative implications, especially for parents and their children.

The majority of the activity on these sites is legal and can be positive. Young people who are curious connect with friends and seek like-minded individuals. However, many children and teens are not aware they are putting themselves in danger by giving out too much personal information and communicating with people they've only met online.

The unprecedented amount of personal information available on blogs and social networking sites makes them a perfect place for people who would harm children to identify their victims and gain their trust. This trust can be used to lure children and teens into a false sense of security, making them vulnerable to "grooming" and an enticement to meet in person, which could have very serious consequences.

Even before the rise of blogs and social networking sites, children faced many dangers while online. A 2000 study reported that one in five children had received a sexual solicitation online and one in 33 received an aggressive solicitation. This problem is compounded because most children did not inform their parents of the incidents. Less than one in four told a parent about the sexual solicitation they received. It is this reason we must have open dialog with our children. Many parents who have attended my internet safety classes have not told their child what to do if someone solicits them on line. Many parents have not discussed internet safety with their children.

So what can we do as parents to keep our children safe?

Speak with your child about internet safety. You would not allow your child to speak to a stranger in public, why would we let our child speak to a stranger on the internet where we know predators are more likely to be?

Tips from the Department of Justice FBI

Communicate…talk to your child about sexual victimization and potential on-line danger.

Spend time with your children on-line. Have them teach you about their favorite on-line destinations.

Keep the computer in a common room in the house, not in your child's bedroom. It is much more difficult for a computer-sex offender to communicate with a child when the computer screen is visible to a parent or another member of the household.

Use parental controls provided by your service provider and/or blocking software. While electronic chat can be a great place for children to make new friends and discuss various topics of interest, it is also prowled by computer-sex offenders. Use of chat rooms, in particular, should be heavily monitored. While parents should use these mechanisms, they should not totally rely on them.

Always maintain access to your child's on-line account and randomly check his/her e-mail. Be aware that your child could be contacted through the U.S. mail. Be up front with your child about your access and reasons why.

Teach your child the responsible use of the resources on-line. There is much more to the on-line experience than chat rooms.

Find out what computer safeguards are used by your child's school, the public library, and at the homes of your child's friends. These are all places, outside your normal supervision, where your child could encounter an on-line predator.

Instruct Your Children

  • To never arrange a face-to-face meeting with someone they met online
  • To never upload (post) pictures of themselves onto the Internet or on-line service to people they do not personally know
  • To never give out identifying information such as their name, home address, school name, or telephone number
  • To never download pictures from an unknown source, as there is a good chance there could be sexually explicit images
  • To never respond to messages or bulletin board postings that are suggestive, obscene, belligerent or harassing
  • That whatever they are told on-line may or may not be true.

Article written by Officer Ted Bathauer, Lone Tree Police Department, 303-339-8150

Officer Bathauer holds regular classes for parents on Internet Safety. To attend a class or receive more information, contact Officer Ted Bathauer, Lone Tree Police Department at 303-339-8150 or by e-mail at ted.bathauer@cityoflonetree.com.