- The Facts:The Internet is an anonymous forum, which can allow intimacy and trust to develop quite quickly. Predators may take advantage of this and start building online friendships with inexperienced young people.
- Reflect On:Parents need to help protect their children from online predators by knowing what risks are involved and how to minimize them when their children are on the Internet.
As internet use explodes among teenagers and young children, the threat and dangers of coming into contact with internet predators and pedophiles increases. Children begin using computers and having internet access at a younger age, making them prime targets. Before internet on cell phones and free public wi-fi became normalized, parents could easily monitor their children’s internet activity while sitting at the desktop in the living room.
With the advancements in modern technology and easy access, ensuring children’s and teenagers’ internet safety is a challenge. Setting parental controls and content filters on personal computers and cell phones is a possibility; however, these measures alone are not enough to keep kids safe.
Establish Internet Safety Rules
Establishing internet safety rules for children and teenagers is essential. They might try to break or push the rules and there is no guarantee they will follow the rules when they are away from home. However, establishing the rules early on will help ensure they follow them and understand the reasoning.
Basic internet safety rules for children and teens include:
1 – Never give out personal identification information over the internet. This includes full name, address, telephone number, school location, photographs, schedules, parent information, and other identifying information.
2 – Never ask or agree to meet up with someone online; not even in a public place.
3 – Limit chats and online conversations to real-life friends and family only or to a parent-approved friends list.
4 – Use the internet in a parental supervised space so they can monitor online activity.
5 – Report to parents any and all inappropriate online activity or uncomfortable conversations.
6 – Use of internet is restricted to designated times, locations and/or internet websites that are parental approved.
7 – Try to build trust within the family. The hope is that if children ever feel threatened online, they’ll come to their parents first.
Additional rules may be added based on the family situation and preferences, child’s age and maturity level, and past activity. Review the internet rules with children on a regular basis and make sure they know them. Have them repeat the rules back to you. If they cannot remember the rules or are caught breaking any of them, you could limit or remove the child’s internet access as punishment.
Monitor Kids’ Internet Use
Kids whine about needing their privacy and will often complain that parents do not respect their privacy and are always looking over their shoulder. Kids do need privacy but not in all aspects of life. It is the parent’s responsibility to know what their kids are doing and whom they are talking with. This is not an invasion of privacy or a trust issue, it is ensuring their safety.
• Allow designated times for internet use
• Approve all websites, chat rooms, forums and message boards
• Monitor the child or teen’s instant messenger, Facebook and social networking friends lists
• Talk regularly with the child or teen about their online friends so you know who they are
• If you believe your child is in danger, read their messages, emails and other online communications including text messages, or review their internet browser history. This is an invasion of privacy, but it could save their life.
It is essential that the child knows you, the parent, will be monitoring their activity and why. Keep an open line of communication and trust and do not be sneaky about monitoring internet use. Establish the monitoring as part of the internet rules, but you need to recognize that you cannot monitor everything. Children will find unmonitored internet access away from home, and they deserve the opportunity to build trust with you.
Discuss the Real Dangers of the Internet
Help your child understand the real safety issues and dangers of internet predators and pedophiles. It is often difficult for parents to discuss these issues with their children because a parent’s instinct is to protect and hide these dangers from their kids. Do not avoid the talk to prevent uncomfortable discussions. How much you tell your children depends on their age and maturity level, but do not underestimate their ability to process information.
It is not enough to tell kids “it’s not safe to give out personal information” or “sometimes bad people do things to kids.” Explain to the child what internet predators are, how pedophiles lure children, and how to identify an online predator or pedophile. Discuss with them the common characteristics of pedophiles and predators.
One conversation is not enough for kids to really understand and process these issues. Make the discussion ongoing and informative, and be prepared to answer your child’s questions in an honest and open manner.
How Predators Lure Kids
First and foremost, internet predators and pedophiles work to gain the trust, sympathy and understanding of children and teens. Conversations start out casual and with information gathering. Over time, the conversations become more personal as the child begins to feel safe and confident. The predator or pedophile quickly looks for sympathy and gains trust by revealing his past history and through stories of his childhood or current life situation.
Internet predators and pedophiles occasionally lie about their age initially, but at some point, they often reveal the truth out of guilt. Otherwise, they are generally honest and convincing in explaining how they feel, the troubles they are going through, and their feelings toward the child.
In addition to gaining trust and sympathy, internet predators and pedophiles often solicit the help of the child. They need something that only the child can help with. They engage in conversations that reveal the types of relationships children have with their peers and with their parents. They go out of their way to convince the child they are the person the child needs and attempt to create a close bond with the child.
Once the bond between predator and child is well established, children will often agree to meet face-to-face. Many times, it is the child or teen that initiates the meet-up conversation, often thinking the person is someone else. Most online predators are convincing not only to the child, but to the parents as well. They are experts at manipulation and it can be impossible to identify an internet predator or pedophile through online conversations.
Help and Resources for Young Victims and Parents
Contact local law enforcement immediately if you suspect your child or teen is in contact with an online predator or pedophile. Remove the child’s internet access and stop all communication with the person. Do not delete or remove communication between the child and suspected predator. Save all correspondences for law enforcement to investigate and take photos of it.
A great number of resources are available online for parents and teens to find out more information and to report suspected online predators and pedophiles. You could also look for local support groups and counselling services offered in your area.