With so many ways to access the Internet, including mobile phones, game consoles, music players and tablet devices, people have unprecedented access to information and computing capabilities. Unfortunately, email, social networking, chat rooms and instant messaging expose kids to online relationships that may be harmful and can turn dangerous when online predators are involved. Families need to be vigilant and understand the dangers and how to protect against them.
What Do Online Predators Do?
The University of New Hampshire Crimes Against Children Research Center found that offenders who target children and teens online and by cell phone operate in much the same ways as they do offline, with sexual advances. They recommend teaching children and adolescents to understand and resist online and in-person sexual advances from adults.
Microsoft reports that online predators contact kids in almost any online venue, including social networking, blogs, instant messaging, email and chat rooms. Once contacted, they use the following to establish a relationship and manipulate kids:
· Seduce with attention, affectionate language, kindness and gifts.
· Use music and hobbies of interest to kids.
· Listen and sympathize.
· Gradually introduce sexual content into online interactions, including sexually explicit photos and content.
What Can Parents Do?
Parents should encourage open communication and be diligent about explaining the dangers of online predators and inappropriate advances in any arena so kids have an awareness of predators and dangerous situations. Kids should never be left unsupervised access to electronic communications.
Parents can monitor all live electronic communications their children participate in with tools such as parental controls and resources on identity theft protection websites to learn about predatory behavior and be aware of all risky situations as they occur and take action. Microsoft advises parents to check all devices for pornographic material and sexual communications for further investigation, and to contact local police if children receive sexually explicit materials or correspondence.
Microsoft recommends parents do the following for safe Internet use by kids:
· Keep the Internet-connected computer in a common area of the house, not in kids’ rooms and try to sit with kids when online.
· Keep kids’ email accounts accessible, requiring young kids to use a family email account, and requiring older kids to give you their passwords.
· Talk to kids and teens about online and offline predators and dangers.
· Use family safety settings.
· Follow age limits on social networking sites and monitor public settings.
Additionally, creating and posting a family online agreement outlining conditions for online activity will remind kids of safe usage practices and dangers.
What Can Kids Do?
Parents should educate themselves and their kids about the ways predators approach and communicate with kids, and communicate that any inappropriate or explicit communication is unacceptable, illegal, and dangerous.
Kids can do a variety of things to protect themselves online:
· Be very careful with downloads and never download anything from unknown sources.
· Tell an adult immediately if something happens online that scares or confuses them.
· Be careful with screen names: don’t use gender-specific names, don’t use any sexual language and don’t reveal personal information in screen names or profiles. This can put children at risk of not only predators, but identity theft.
· Immediately stop all communications that become offensive or threatening and tell an adult.
· Never reveal any personal identifying information, including full name, birth date, home address, home or cell phone number, name of school, hometown information, etc.
· Use email filters to keep out communications from questionable sources.
· Honor the family online agreement.
Online predators are a threat that should not be ignored. Your children should feel comfortable coming to you with any questions or concerns, so keep communication open and honest. With the proper precautions, your teen can have a positive online and social media experience.
Want more information on online predators? Check out this infographic!