www.ncmec.org/), one in five Americans ages 10 to 17 encountered
sexual solicitations online during 1999. That was eight years ago, well before
the widespread popularity of blogs, social networking sites and instant messages
(IMs). These days kids are constantly chatting, e-mailing and posting personal
information and images on Web sites. Regrettably, online predators have
become adept at using these technologies to approach children and teens.
Unfortunately, online predators aren’t the only problem. The same NCMEC
study also found that one in four youngsters happened upon inappropriate
sexual images while surfing the Web; only about four in 10 told a parent
To protect their children, parents need to educate themselves about their
kids’ online activities. From IMs and chat rooms to blogs and social networking sites, parents need to learn what these technologies do, how they work
and how their kids are using them.
For example, many parents may not know that MySpace.com and other
social networking sites have become very popular among teens. These Web
sites give kids an easy way to share ideas, images and information about
themselves. However, many adults use these sites, too, and it’s not uncommon
to find lurid content on their pages.
Moreover, according to a recent MSNBC report, predators have recently
begun using these sites to approach and sexually assault young teens. Of
course, the hosts of these sites put restrictions on content and try to enforce
minimum age limits. However, it’s simply too difficult to adequately control
all the content, given the volume of traffic and information. So, it’s up to
parents to get involved and take control.
Get involved and take control
Once parents get involved, they can take positive steps to control how
their kids use the Internet (see “What parents can do”).
Kids do all sorts of things online. They surf, chat, e-mail and even post
personal inforamtion. Meanwhile, the Internet is rife with dangers for children
and teens, so parents need to get educated and get involved. A
If you’re a parent, here are
some things you can do to protect
Learn what your kids are doing.
Ask your kids about their favorite
online hangouts and who they meet
there. Find out if they have a blog, a
personalized Web site, an IM account
or e-mail accounts.
Educate your kids. Be very clear
about the kinds of personal information
your children should never divulge over
the Internet, including their name,
address and phone number. Just as
you would in the real world, teach your
kids what to do if a stranger approaches
them online. Specifically, tell them
to cut off communication with any
person they don’t know and to notify
Set Internet policies. Come up
with family policies for e-mail, IMs, blogs
and social networking accounts—
including the kinds of programs your kids can
use and how much time they can spend
Block inappropriate sites. Decide
which kinds of Web sites are off-limits to
your kids, and use the parental control
feature of your Internet security program
to block access to restricted sites.
Monitor your kids’ accounts.
Make sure you know who your children
are meeting online. Match the online
identity of every person they communicate
with to make sure it’s someone you
know and trust. Regularly check their
buddy lists and address books for new
and unfamiliar names.
Make the Internet a family
activity. Maybe more important than
anything else, keep your computers in
a central part of the house; that way
you can stay involved and keep an eye
on what your kids are doing.