Saturday, March 1, 2008

Safety Saturdays (#3) - Tips for Keeping Kids Safe Online and Offline

Online Sexual Exploitation – Exchange

In 2006, The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children conducted a study of youth ages 10 to 17 to document online experiences. 1 in 3 children reported unwanted exposure to sexually explicit pictures. 1 in 7 children received an unwanted sexual solicitation or approach.

Online predators begin communicating with teens through chat rooms, instant messaging, and social networking sites. They take time to learn what interest teens today. They may communicate with several teens at the same time. Keep in mind that some offenders target males.

The ultimate goal of an online predator is to meet the teen in person. They devote a tremendous amount of time to manipulating the teen into trusting them. They can be extremely patient in this process. They offer teens attention and affection.

They are good listeners, listening for vulnerabilities they can use to exploit the teen. Is the teen flattered that someone older is interested in her/him? Does the teen feel misunderstood, lonely, isolated, rebellious? Has the teen expressed some curiousity about sex?

Although some people on the internet immediately initiate sexually explicit conversation, others may seek to lower a young person's inhibitions by slowly introducing sexual conversations. Offenders may send pornographic pictures to the teen. They also may request sexual pictures of the teen.

They may progress to using other means of communication, such as the phone, text messaging, or the mail. They often tell teen to keep relationship secret, saying other people will not understand. They may send the teen gifts, even plane tickets to visit them. If the person is closer to the teen's age, the teen may not fully understand the dangers to meeting the person offline.

What Are Some Behaviors that Can Put Your Child at Risk?

  • Using a screenname that identifies their gender and age.
  • Giving out personal information, such as full name, age, phone number, or school name, by sending it and/or posting it.
  • Having a public profile that can be viewed by anyone on the internet.
  • Adding people to their friends or buddy lists that they do not know offline.
  • Posting or sending suggestive or provocative pictures.
  • Communicating with people they do not know offline.
  • Talking about sex with people they only know online.
  • Agreeing to meet someone in person that they only "know" online.

What Can You Do to Protect Your Child?

  • Communicate with your child about potential dangers.
  • Teach them to trust their instincts and talk to you if something makes them feel scared, uncomfortable or confused.
  • Make sure they know it is not their fault if they encounter a problem.
  • Know what they are doing on line.
  • Keep computer in common area rather than child's bedroom.
  • Monitor your child's accounts.
  • Consider parental controls available through your internet service provider, operating system, and/or monitoring software.
  • Check safeguards of other places child can be online, such as library, school, friend's house.
  • Be aware that an internet predator may also use other means of communication - phone, mail, text messaging.
  • Check your phone bills for calls to/from numbers you do not recognize, especially long distance nubmers. Your child may not give out their number, but the offender may give out his.
  • Report incidents of child exploitation to The CyberTipline or call 1-800-843-5678. Information will be forwarded to law enforcement for review and when appropriate, to internet service provider.

Where can you find more information?

  • A Parent's Guide to Internet Safety from the FBI.
  • NetSmartz Workshop provides on- and offline learning activities for parents to facilitate discussions with their children and teens about Internet safety.
  • NetSmartz411 is parents' and guardians' premier, online resource for answering questions about Internet safety, computers, and the Web.
Please let me know if you have any questions or if there is a particular topic that you would like to see covered in a future post. (If you are not familiar with blogging, you can still leave a comment below. Just click the anonymous button and type your comment in the text box provided.)

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