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How To Ensure Your Child Is Safe On The Internet

It’s the season where most kids love to be outdoors, but it’s also a time of year where unsupervised youngsters can navigate their way into a whole world of trouble on the Internet.

Studies show 83 per cent of parents don’t monitor what their children look at on the web, and that’s a big problem.

“It’s not a safe place for kids to be if they’re not being monitored,” said Karen Robbins, AOL Canada’s Net Mom.

“There’s inappropriate content, there are also predators online, there are even bullies…kids should not be talking to people they don’t know online.”

In June, CityNews investigated to see how long it would take one of our staff posing as a 14-year-old girl to receive advances in an online chatroom. It was only a matter of seconds before offers came pouring in.

“The over 30-year-olds seemed to be most excited by the fact that I was a young, teenage girl,” said Mary Perrone, a CityNews employee.

There are dozens of ways to keep tabs on what your kids come in contact with on the net and what they have access to, but the most important thing is that adults become more cyber savvy than their young ones, so they can first know what dangers there are to avoid.

There’s a lot of places where kids and their parents differ and going online tends to be one of them.

The truth is, the older a child gets, the further ahead of their folks they seem to be in understanding computers. But for the very young and for teens, it’s important moms and dads lay down the rules early.

The reason: the World Wide Web has become a virtual playground for pedophiles and stalkers. And preparation and advance knowledge may be the only way to protect your kids when they enter that realm.

Here’s some tips for delivering them from temptation:

  • If the family only has one computer, keep it in a visible place where you can see what they’re doing.
  • If they plan to go into chat rooms, remind them of the number one unbreakable rule – under no circumstances can they ever give out personal information, such as their real name, age, address, gender, email contact, passwords, credit cards or phone number. They should also never agree to meet with anyone they “talk” to.
  • Never let them go into ‘private areas’ in chat rooms.
  • If someone tries to get their names or sends them questionable content, contact police and your Internet service provider. They may be able to trace the user.
  • Familiarize yourself with short forms teens often use online. “P.O.S.”, for example, stands for “Parent Over Shoulder”. It indicates they don’t want to let you see what they’re doing.
  • Install a program like Net Nanny to keep young surfers away from sites you don’t want them to see.
  • Tell your children to choose pseudonyms that are gender neutral, to further hide who they are.
  • Limit their time online. There are other things in life, like sports, homework and friends.
  • Remember the computer is yours, not theirs. You paid for it, so you get to say what it’s used for.
  • Don’t be afraid to take away your child’s surfing privileges if they don’t play by your rules.

Here are some things parents and kids should know about the dangers in the online world (courtesy of the Media Awareness Network):

How Do Predators Work?

Online Predators Are Usually:

Sexually Indiscriminate

According to the Media Awareness Network, predators often try to seduce victims with affection, compliments, and even gifts and they’re often willing to spend a lot of time and money on this process.

They’ll also try to lower a young person’s inhibitions by gradually introducing sexual talk.

But there are others who will try to engage a victim in explicit conversation right away and could include online harassment or stalking.

What children are at risk?

  • New online and unfamiliar with Netiquette
  • Actively seeking attention/affection
  • Rebellious
  • Isolated or lonely
  • Curious
  • Confused regarding sexual identity
  • Easily tricked by adults
  • Allured by subcultures outside of parents’ world

How can parents minimize the risk of a child becoming a victim?

  • Talk to your kids about sexual predators and potential online dangers.
  • Young children shouldn’t use chat rooms, period-the dangers are too great. As children get older, steer them towards well-monitored chat rooms for kids. Even teens should be encouraged to use monitored chat rooms.
  • Instruct your children to never leave the public area of a chat room. Many chat rooms offer private areas where users can have one-on-one conversations.
  • If your children participate in chat rooms, make it your business to know what chat rooms they visit and who they talk to. Monitor the chat areas yourself to see what kind of conversations are going on.
  • Keep the computer with Internet access in a common area of the house, never in a child’s bedroom. It’s much more difficult for a predator to establish a relationship with your child if the computer screen is easily visible to parents and other household members.
  • When your children are young, they should share the family email address rather than having their own email accounts. As they get older, you can ask your ISP to set up a separate email address, but kids’ mail should still reside in your account.
  • Teach your children never to respond to instant messaging or emails from strangers.
  • For places outside your area of supervision-such as the public library, school, or friend’s homes-find out what computer safeguards are used.
  • If all precautions fail and your kids do encounter an online predator, remember that they’re not to blame in any way. The offender always bears the complete responsibility for his actions.

How can kids minimize the risk of being victimized?

They should:

  • Never download images from an unknown source, as they could be sexually explicit.
  • Tell an adult immediately if anything happens online that makes them feel uncomfortable or frightened.
  • Choose a gender-neutral nickname.
  • Never reveal personally identifiable information (including age and gender) online.
  • Post the family online agreement by the computer to remind them to protect their privacy on the Internet.

How can you tell if a child is being targeted?

Here some clues that may indicate that a child has been targeted by an online predator:

  • A child or teen spends large amounts of time online
  • Most children who fall victim to online predators spend a lot of time online, particularly in chat rooms. In such cases, parents should monitor how much time is spent online, and in what activities.
  • You find pornography on the family computer.Predators often use pornography to sexually victimize children-often supplying it as a way to open sexual discussions with potential victims. Child pornography may be used to convince a child victim that adults having sex with children is “normal.” Parents should be aware that a child may hide pornographic files on diskettes, especially if the computer is used by other family members.
  • A child or teen receives phone calls from people you don’t know; or makes calls to numbers you don’t recognize-sometimes long distance.Online predators may try to contact young people to engage in “phone sex,” or to try to set up a real-world meeting. If kids are hesitant to give out their home phone number, online sex offenders will give out theirs. Some have even obtained toll-free 1-800 numbers, so their potential victims can call them without their parents finding out. Others will tell the child to call collect-and then, with Caller ID, they can easily find out the child’s phone number.
  • A child or teen receives mail, gifts, or packages from someone you don’t know. It’s common for offenders to send letters, photographs, and all manner of gifts to their potential victims. Computer-sex offenders have even sent plane tickets to try to entice a child or teen to travel across the country to meet them.
  • A child or teen becomes withdrawn from family and friends; or quickly turns the computer monitor off or changes the screen if an adult comes into the room.Online predators work hard to drive wedges between kids and their families, often exaggerating any minor problems at home. Sexually victimized children often become withdrawn and depressed. And if kids are avoiding their friends or skipping classes, they may be attempting to meet with a predator.
  • A child is using someone else’s online account. Even kids who don’t have access to the Internet at home may meet an offender while online at a friend’s house or the library. Predators will sometimes provide their victims with a computer account, so they can communicate with them.

What can you do if a child is being targeted?

  • You should contact your local police immediately if an online correspondent sends a young person child pornography or sexually explicit images; and especially if a young person is actually sexually solicited.
  • Check your computer for pornographic files or any kind of sexual communications-these can be warning signs.
  • Monitor the child’s access to all live electronic communications, such as chat rooms, instant messages, and email. Online predators almost always meet potential victims in chat rooms at first, and then continue communicating with them electronically via email.