Many of us depend upon the Internet to conduct business or to stay in touch with people. Our children rely on it for basic communication. News, recipes, homework help, games, and all kinds of information are available with a few keystrokes. Unfortunately, those who prey on children find what they’re looking for just as easily. Because we can’t physically protect our children around the clock, we must put safeguards into place to keep our kids’ cyber world free from danger.
Cyber Seduction and Stalking
E-mail and chat rooms provide no way to know with whom your child is really conversing. A molester can engage a child in harmless conversation hoping that later, he’ll manage to extract personal information or try to arrange a meeting. Be sure your child understands that discussing personal issues and using real names, addresses, phone numbers, and school names are strictly taboo.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) has helpful information on safeguarding your child from online predators at www.missingkids.com. Visit the site with your child and discuss the information provided there. To remind kids of the importance of online safety, write the web site’s address on a sticky note and post it on your computer monitor.
Sending children pornography or attempting to seduce them for sexual purposes is a crime. If your child encounters either situation while online, contact the local police and local FBI office as well as your online service provider. In addition, file a report with the National Child Pornography Tipline at 1-800-843-5678 or www.CyberTipline.com, a web site run by the NCMEC in cooperation with government agencies.
Signs of Trouble
If your child logs on late at night, turns the computer off or closes a screen quickly when you enter the room, receives calls from adults or snail mail from senders you don’t recognize, or becomes withdrawn, suspect an inappropriate online relationship. Talk to your child about your concerns and check his incoming and outgoing e-mail messages, web site history, and address book. If you find threatening or illegal information, contact the appropriate authorities.
Tips for Safer Surfing
- Understand and use your Internet service provider’s parental controls.
- Put the computer in a common area of your house so you can monitor your child’s usage. If your child has a computer in the bedroom, insist that the door be left open when it’s in use and pop in often for a friendly peek.
- Maintain access to your child’s account by knowing his or her password and monitoring e-mail randomly. Although some parents look at their child’s mail in secret, kids may be more careful if they know their actions could be reviewed at any time.
- Have your child show you his or her “favorite places” file so you can see where online time is spent.
- A quiz, an online safety guide, a contract for Internet usage, and other information are available at www.GetNetWise.org.
Denise Springer is a speaker and freelance writer. Her books, “Confident Parenting in Frightening Times: How to Safeguard Your Kids from Cradle to College,” and “Confident Teaching in Frightening Times,” may be ordered by mail.