By Pamela Arsena
Most people would agree the internet is a fun and convenient resource to make new friends and learn new things. As technology advances so does the accessibility of the internet. People can now surf the internet via cell phones, laptop computers, and palm pilots. The internet is everywhere from Libraries, internet cafes, and school campuses across America.
While the internet has made it easier to shop, communicate, and research it has also made the world much more complex from a technical viewpoint. Software companies spend millions of dollars trying to protect users against hackers, predators, and scammers. Sadly, these companies seem to be one step behind the cyber criminals who are very intelligent and skilled at exploitation. These criminals do not lurk in alleys or bars; instead they roam the information super highway and prey upon the vulnerable. Internet predators come from various types of social, economic and ethnic backgrounds. Internet predators are very hard to detect because the majority of them look non-threatening and some even hold very prestigious occupations. A great example of this is Senator Mark Foley, who used the internet to prey upon teenage boys working in the White House.
Many adults know very little about the online world. Most kids end up teaching their parents how to use the internet. The internet is being taught to kids in middle school which is overall a good idea, but it can create some problems such as kids having more technical expertise than their parents and teachers. The average teenager knows more about configuring, downloading, and installing programs than their guardians. Parents often feel they can not learn computer skills so their children are often left to manage the computer. Parents and kids are both in a bad situation because parents do not know how to use the computer and kids lack the experience and maturity to make sound decisions about online safety. Parents often under estimate the dangers that lurk online and sadly our children are paying the price for it. At any given moment there are 50,000 child predators online looking for their next victim. These criminals use websites such as Myspace, AOL and Yahoo to facilitate communications with unsuspecting kids The best way to keep children safe is by education, supervision, and installation of software for protection against online predators. When most people think of the word “predator” they think of a lion or bear, because these animals hunt prey weaker and smaller than them. According to the American Heritage Dictionary a predator is defined as: “One that victimizes, plunders, or destroys, especially for one’s own gain.” Internet predators behave in this manner because they target children who are weaker emotionally, intellectually and physically and then exploit them for their own sexual gratification. Pedophiles no longer have to stalk playgrounds or toy stores; instead they can access the internet and within seconds locate an unassuming child. Parents have a difficult time protecting their kids from threats they themselves can not see. Internet Predators pose a much bigger challenge to parents and children because the internet is everywhere.
It is a well known fact, many children know more about how to operate a computer than their parents. Kids typically start learning basic computer literacy starting in elementary school. The first step to keeping children safe is for parents to get educated themselves about the dangers online. Parents can do this by watching television, reading newspapers, or talking to their local police department. Parents also need to have basic computer skills such as learning how to operate the computer, use the internet, download and install programs. Many colleges and vocational institutions offer inexpensive computer classes. Parents also can get help from neighbors or friends who are computer proficient. Parents then need to educate their children about the dangers online because according to the FBI, one out of five kids will be solicited by an online pedophile When children understand the dangers that exist online they are less likely to become victims. Most parents spend time telling their kids about the dangers of talking to strangers and this same principal should also apply online.
Learning how to use the computer is an essential step in keeping children safe, but parents should equally understand who they are protecting their kids from and how they operate. Most online predators establish contact with kids via internet chat rooms, forums, and instant messages. Online predators typically visit local chat rooms. These predators keep up with local trends such as popular music, television, and hobbies. Online predators often spend a great deal of time, energy, and even income getting to know their victim. Some predators try and earn the victims trust by sympathizing with their problems and then gradually introduce sexually explicit material to their targets. This process if often referred to as “grooming”.
Now that we understand how the predator works we need to understand which type of young people are more susceptible to becoming victims. According to bewebaware.com, “teenagers who are new to online activity, actively seeking affection or attention, curious about their sexuality or attracted by sub-culture apart from their parents world are most likely to become victims .” This makes sense because this is the time where teenagers are figuring out who they are and where they belong. This makes them even more of an attractive target to pedophiles, because teenagers are opens to suggestion. Parents can counteract this by talking to their kids about online threats and keeping communication lines open. Education is the most important tool because like the internet it can be accessed anywhere.
Most parents would never consider allowing a stranger to come into their home and spend time with their kids unsupervised. The internet should not be treated any different. Supervision in this context includes monitoring the pc when kids are online and setting rules for computer usage. Parents should try to accompany their kids online and observe the websites they visit. This is especially true for kids who are new to the internet. If a parent feels comfortable with their kid being online they can make sure the computer is placed in a common area of the home. Computers with internet access should never be placed in a child’s bedroom. It is much more difficult for a predator to form a relationship when the monitor is visible to the parent at all times. Parents also need to set up some guidelines for their kid’s internet usage. Most guidelines are common sense such as telling kids not to open emails or instant messages from people they do not know. Parents also need to instruct their kids on what chat rooms are okay for them to visit and with whom they communicate with in these rooms. I advise parents to go into the chat room and monitor the traffic on several different occasions before letting a child chat unsupervised. Daniel Armagh suggests, is also a good idea for young kids to share an email account with their parents, because parents will know exactly what is going on via email.
Parents may want to give older kids their own email address which is okay only if the parent knows the password and monitor all incoming and outgoing communications Parents should also have rules regarding meeting people from the internet. These rules should be strictly enforced. One such rule is if a meeting does take place a parent needs to be in attendance. According to Andi Atwater, “households who have a rule about meeting online acquaintances (which 74 per cent of households have) reduces the likelihood of this happening by one-half. There are other things parents can do such as choosing a gender-neutral screen name that does not contain sexually suggestive words or reveal personal information. Good examples of gender neutral screen names are Scorpio343, Gametime747 or logic372. Avoid screen names that have words like girl, boy, princess, prince, Barbie, flower, or numbers that may indicate age, zip code or area code. Also avoid screen names that have school mascot or logos in it. Children should never have their photo on a chat room profile. Since the internet can be accessed from virtually anywhere it is unreasonable to expect parents to be able to monitor their kids surfing while their kids are at school or at friends houses.. Parents can however find out what type of safeguards these places have to keep children safe. The internet is a great place for kids to explore and a great resource for children to learn new things, play games, and communicate with their friends and parents should journey the internet with their children.
The third and final safety measure parents can take is to install software such as parental control software. Parental control software is a type of program that can be installed on a pc that limits where a child can visit online. Some parental control software can even monitor all outgoing and incoming communications. This means that it keeps track of every email, instant message, and website your child sends or receives. This software is typically easy to install and utilize. Taking these measures will ensure the safety of children on the internet.
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