The Danger Online

The Internet plays an important role in our current society. It is an invaluable educational device, a necessary research tool, an all important method of communication, and an overall fun place to be. As children are raised in the information age, their use of the Internet becomes second nature to them. Parents who grew up without this technology are sometimes unaware of how the Internet can be a dangerous place as well.

A survey taken in 2001 by the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire found the following:

  • One in 5 youth received a sexual approach or solicitation over the Internet in the past year.
  • One in 33 youth received an aggressive sexual solicitation in the pastyear. This means a predator asked a young person to meet somewhere, called ayoung person on the phone, and/or sent the young person correspondence, money,or gifts through the U.S. Postal Service.
  • One in 4 youth had an unwanted exposure in the past year to pictures of naked people or people having sex.
  • One in 17 youth was threatened or harassed in the past year.
  • Most young people who reported these incidents were not very disturbed about them, but a few found them distressing.
  • Only a fraction of all episodes was reported to authorities such as the police, an Internet service provider, or a hotline.
  • About 25 percent of the youth who encountered a sexual approach or solicitation told a parent. Almost 40 percent of those reporting an unwanted exposure to sexual material told a parent.
  • Only 17 percent of youth and 11 percent of parents could name a specific authority, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), CyberTipline, or an Internet service provider, to which they could report an Internet crime, although more indicated they were vaguely aware of such authorities.
  • In households with home Internet access, one-third of parents said they had filtering or blocking software on their computers.

The media is filled with horror stories of children who have been abducted by, or run off with, strangers they have met online. While this is a real threat, most kids who go online will not experience this type of hazard. More than likely, a child who experiences problems online will do so along the lines of viewing inappropriate content, receiving inappropriate messages through email or chat, or being the victim of online bullying.

Reducing the Risks

It is important to remember that even as a concerned parent, you still need to respect your child’s privacy while maintaining a healthy balance of parental involvement and supervision in their daily lives. If you feel your child’s Internet use is a cause for concern then address the situation with your child just as you would any real world situation. If your concern is out of your realm of knowledge, or comfort, enlist the help of teachers, counselors, siblings, or any other person your child respects. Just make sure the line of communication is open for your child. Let them feel comfortable talking to you if they encounter a site, person, or message while online that they find upsetting. Don’t blame them in this situation, rather use it as a teachable moment. In life, they are bound to come across unpleasantness, they will learn how to react by watching you.

Having a working knowledge of the Internet is important as well. There are a host of web sites, chat rooms, and newsgroups promote hate, violence, sex, and other topics that parents may find unsuitable for their children. Unfortunately, it is easy for a child to stumble across this material through innocent web browsing. Search engines by default do not filter inappropriate content from that which a parent may deem appropriate. Yahooligans!, Ask Jeeves for Kids, and Google SafeSearch are a few search engines that try to filter out any inappropriate content, but nothing is 100%.

Check with your Internet Service Provider (ISP) to see if they offer any type of content filtering through their service. BellSouth, for instance, allows parents to block a variety of web sites by content or keywords. They also have features built in that prohibit chat programs, and other software that could lead to inappropriate behavior while online such as peer-to-peer file sharing. If you are unable to filter at your ISP level, there are software programs that will do this for you as well. Cyber-sitter and SurfControl are two programs that will allow you to set limits on Internet usage. Something new on the market is a USB key that allows a parent to set restrictions similar to the software packages. If they want to limit Internet time entirely, they simply remove the key, and online access is disabled.

Guidelines

The

National

Center

for Missing and Exploited Children have posted these guideline for parents to go over with their children to help them to stay safe on the Internet:

  • Never give out identifying information – home address, school name, or telephone number – in a public message such as chat or newsgroups, and be sure you’re dealing with someone both you and your children know and trust before giving out this information via E-mail. Think carefully before revealing any personal information such as age, financial information, or marital status. Do not post photographs of your children in newsgroups or on web sites that are available to the public. Consider using a pseudonym, avoid listing your child’s name and E-mail address in any public directories and profiles, and find out about your ISP’s privacy policies and exercise your options for how your personal information may be used.

  • Get to know the Internet and any services your child uses. If you don’t know how to log on, get your child to show you. Have your child show you what he or she does online, and become familiar with all the activities that are available online. Find out if your child has a free web-based E-mail account, such as those offered by Hotmail and Yahoo!Ã?® , and learn their user names and passwords.

  • Never allow a child to arrange a face-to-face meeting with someone they “meet” on the Internet without parental permission. If a meeting is arranged, make the first one in a public place, and be sure to accompany your child.

  • Never respond to messages that are suggestive, obscene, belligerent, threatening, or make you feel uncomfortable. Encourage your children to tell you if they encounter such messages. If you or your child receives a message that is harassing, of a sexual nature, or threatening, forward a copy of the message to your ISP, and ask for their assistance. Instruct your child not to click on any links that are contained in E-mail from persons they don’t know. Such links could lead to sexually explicit or otherwise inappropriate web sites or could be a computer virus. If someone sends you or your children messages or images that are filthy, indecent, lewd, or obscene with the intent to abuse, annoy, harass, or threaten you, or if you become aware of the transmission, use, or viewing of child pornography while online immediately report this to the NCMEC’s CyberTipline at 1-800-843-5678 or www.cybertipline.com. Set reasonable rules and guidelines for computer use by your children.

  • Remember that people online may not be who they seem. Because you can’t see or even hear the person it would be easy for someone to misrepresent him- or herself. Thus someone indicating that “she” is a “12-year-old girl” could in reality be a 40-year-old man.

  • Remember that everything you read online may not be true. Any offer that’s “too good to be true” probably is. Be careful about any offers that involve you going to a meeting, having someone visit your house, or sending money or credit-card information.

  • Set reasonable rules and guidelines for computer use by your children. (See “My Rules for Online Safety” on the back cover.) Discuss these rules and post them near the computer as a reminder. Remember to monitor your children’s compliance with these rules, especially when it comes to the amount of time your children spend on the computer. A child’s excessive use of online services or the Internet, especially late at night, may be a clue that there is a potential problem. Remember that personal computers and online services should not be used as electronic babysitters.

  • Check out blocking, filtering, and ratings applications. Be sure to make this a family activity. Consider keeping the computer in a family room rather than the child’s bedroom. Get to know their “online friends” just as you get to know all of their other friends. If your child has a cellular telephone, talk with him or her about using it safely. The same rules that apply to computer use, also apply to cellular telephones.

What to Do About It

Most content that parents find inappropriate or offensive may not be illegal. Free speech permits people to post just about anything ontheweb. If you, or your child, comes across a site that is offensiveandis easily accessed by children you may want to report it to your ISP or the company that hosts the site in question. Again, it is important to discuss this type of material with your child and explain to him orher your expectations and guildelines regarding this.

Child pornography, unsolicited obscene material sent via email, and misleading domain names can be reported very easily. CyberTipline(www.cybertipline.com) is an online service in which you can reportthese activities along with other forms of child exploitation by simplyclicking a button. Online fraud, harrassment, and other Internetrelated crimes can be reported through the Department of Justice’s website, http://www.usdoj.gov/criminal/cybercrime/reporting.htm.

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