March 15, 2012

Children and the Internet

By Brittany Lothe, Communications Team

Protecting our children against becoming victims of crime – especially online – must be a national priority. As part of Human Trafficking Awareness Month in January, JLPA-MP hosted an informative training presented by the FBI on how adults can facilitate children using the Internet more safely.

Many league members attended the training, including Noelle Gonsalves. I found the evening very informative. As a teacher, I knew many of the dangers of children using the Internet, but now as a parent, I have become even more aware of the importance of using a strong filter to post and receive information. The FBI officer was a fantastic speaker who was also a parent, and related his own family life to the topic which was very helpful and insightful.

Below you will find tips for keeping your children safe online and what to do if you think your child is in danger.

Signs That Your Child Might Be At Risk On-line: 
  • Your child spends large amounts of time on-line. Often times, online pretenders work during the day and spend their evenings on-line trying to locate and lure children. Most children who fall victim to computer-sex offenders spend large amounts of time on-line, particularly in chat rooms in the evening.
  • You find pornography on your child's computer. Sex offenders often send potential victims pornography as a means of opening sexual discussions and for seduction. Child pornography may be used to show the child victim that sex between children and adults is "normal."
  • Your child receives mail or gifts from someone you don't know. As part of the seduction process, it is common for offenders to send letters, photographs, and all manner of gifts to their potential victims. Computer-sex offenders have even sent plane tickets in order for the child to travel across the country to meet them.
  • Your child turns the computer monitor off or quickly changes the screen on the monitor when you come into the room. A child having inappropriate conversations does not want you to see it on the screen.
  • Your child becomes withdrawn from the family. Computer-sex offenders will work very hard at driving a wedge between a child and their family or at exploiting their relationship.

What Can You Do To Minimize The Chances Of An On-line Pretender Victimizing Your Child?
  • Talk to your child about sexual victimization and potential on-line danger.
  • Spend time with your children on-line. Have them teach you about their favorite on-line destinations.
  • Keep the computer in a common room in the house, not in your child's bedroom. It is much more difficult for a computer-sex offender to communicate with a child when the computer screen is visible to a parent or another member of the household.
  • Utilize parental controls provided by your service provider and/or blocking software. While electronic chat can be a great place for children to make new friends and discuss various topics of interest, it is also tracked by computer-sex offenders.
  • Maintain access to your child's on-line account and randomly check his/her e-mail.
  • Be aware that your child could be contacted through the U.S. Mail.
  • Be up front with your child about your access and reasons why.
  • Instruct your child to never arrange a face-to-face meeting with someone they met on- line; upload (or post) pictures of themselves onto the Internet or on-line service to people they do not personally know; give out identifying/personal information such as name, home address, school name, or telephone number; to never download pictures from an unknown source; or, respond to messages or bulletin board postings that are suggestive, obscene, belligerent, or harassing.

Another League member and attendee, Meredith Schneider, commented on the training, I have not fully checked it out myself, but the FBI agent suggested referencing for tips on how and what to communicate with kids regarding internet safety. He also suggested passing it along to schools to spread the word. Another point of the discussion revolved around smart phones. In the "olden days" parents could monitor computer use, because it was a fixed object. Now, smart phones and exposure to even younger kids is more prevalent, so education for both parents and children need to begin earlier.

Should your child receive child pornography, be sexually solicited by someone who knows that your child is under 18 years of age or receive sexually explicit images from someone who knows your child is under the age of 18, keep your computer off, do not attempt to copy any images or emails (unless instructed by law enforcement) and contact your local or state law enforcement agency, the FBI, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

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