Internet Safety II: Kids and Predators
Predators are everywhere in society. Teachers, neighbors, relatives, and others can pose threats that seem hard to believe. As parents are becoming more aware of the people who come into contact with their children, they need to make sure they also know who their kids are coming into contact with online.
Social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace are perfect for predators. Many kids allow people they don’t even know to access their information. Unfortunately, what most people don’t realize is just how much information about a particular person someone can collect this way. If you’re under eighteen, in order to create a Facebook account you have to put down the name of your school. Although this is supposed to be a feature that protects kids, in reality revealing their school can put them in danger. Now a predator has a picture, a name, and the school the child goes to. This is more than enough information to target a particular kid and plan an assault or abduction. Thanks to the search features, a predator can look for kids who go to a certain school or live within a certain town.
To make matters even worse, if the predator approaches the child, calls them by name, and seems to know them, it is highly likely that the child will believe whatever story they come up with. "I work with your dad" or "I’m your friend Sharon’s uncle, we met at her last birthday party". A line like this can buy a predator time to get close enough to your child to harm them.
Aside from social networking sites, there are literally thousands of forums and chat rooms where a potential predator could meet your child. Here’s the thing that most don’t realize: your child can be targeted even while visiting sites you might consider harmless. For example, a twelve-year-old boy who is a fan of Star Trek may regularly post on one of the boards. He can strike up a conversation with someone dangerous (who might even be posing as a child themselves). After a few months, having developed a sense of familiarity, your child’s new friend wants to meet, even for something innocuous like loaning or trading a cool book. And, just like that, your sensible child with the excellent grades and the sweet demeanor is meeting a stranger at his school, the corner grocery, or even down the street.
So, as a parent, what can you do? You can’t keep your child off the internet. There are simply too many places where they can get access. Here’s what you can do to help minimize your child’s risk.
1. Talk honestly with your kids about the dangers. A blunt conversation can do far more to protect your child than your silence on the issue can. If you know someone who has actually been targeted, this is the time to share the story to make it real to your kid. Encourage them to come to you with any questions or concerns.
2. Join the forums or social networking sites your kid spends time on and just observe. Make it a condition of them joining. Don’t use this as an opportunity to be nosy, over-intrusive, or even social with your child. Just keep tabs on their contacts and things that are posted on their site or by them elsewhere. The goal is not for them to feel like your cramping their style, or that they have to find a way to sneak around you to talk privately with friends. The goal is to keep an eye out for suspicious behavior by others.
3. Encourage your child to discuss with you the interests they have and the people they interact with online and off. Whatever you do, don’t act like you’re passing judgment. As a parent, information is your greatest asset. The more you know about your child, their friends, and activities, the faster you can identify potential threats.
Do what you can to make your child an equal partner in their protection. It is better to have your child be aware of the danger and cautious than ignorant and rash. Lots of people don’t like to talk with their children about uncomfortable subjects like this because they don’t want to distress them. But the odds of your child getting at least propositioned on line are higher than you might think. Preparing them to deal with that emotionally, and to protect themselves from those who might harm them, could save them a lot more distress than ignoring the problem would.
Up next: Internet Safety III: Internet and the Workplace