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Perhaps one of the most challenging problems that parents face when protecting their children in the online environment is protecting them from online predators. Sexual predators no longer have to take to the streets to find their next possible victim. All they have to do is simply target their next victim using websites such as Facebook or chat rooms. Research has shown that 82% of online sex crimes against minors begin with the offender using the child’s social networking site to gain information. The safety of children in the online environment should never be taken for granted. Parents must know of and use the many resources available to help protect their children from the dangers of the internet.
Recognizing an Online Predator
Online predators can often be hard to identify. Why? Because outside of the online environment, they often seem to be completely normal people. While studies have shown that the average online predator is white, male, and middle-aged, online predators can be of any race, age or gender. The professions of online predators may vary. Contrary to what people may think, many of them hold respectful jobs and positions in society. Listed below are a few common characteristics or traits that may be helpful in identifying an online predator.
- Appears trusting at first
- May pretend to share common interests with targeted victims
- Will more than likely engage in as many activities with children as possible
- Will often look for children who are emotionally vulnerable
- May pretend to be someone he or she is not in order to take advantage of children
- Will be very good at internet lingo to help coerce young victims
- Will become more provocative as he or she feels the victim is beginning to trust
Both children and parents must always remain aware of the characteristics of an online predator. Ever more so, they must be aware of the dangers of getting involved with an online predator. The dangers include:
- Identity theft. Some online predators are out to get personal information rather than physically harming victims. They will ask for information such as social security numbers, home addresses, full names, date of birth, etc. Children must be taught to never give out personal information regardless of who asks for it. Why? Accounts can be compromised, and one never knows who is actually on the other end.
- Sexual solicitation. Many online predators use chat rooms and social networking sites such as Facebook to solicit sex from minors. After making strong connections, they attempt to set up meeting places with the minor to carry out the acts. Unfortunately, many of these meetings end up with a devastating ending. For this reason, parents should utilize parental control to intercept sexual solicitation of minors by online predators. An alarming fact is that in a study done by the National Center for Missing Children reported that 44% of sexual solicitation came from children under the age of 18. Sexual predators aren’t always adults.
- Child Pornography or exposure to pornography. Online predators are sly and often know how to get what they want. There are many predators who are looking specifically for nude photos of children. After establishing a trusting relationship, online predators will request nude photos of their targeted victims and offer photos in return.
- Kidnapping/rape. Some sexual predators are willing to go to the extreme with targeted victims. They use information made available on social networking sites to gather information such as where the child lives, his day to day activities and routines, who he hangs out with, etc. Through the social networking page, the predator is able to gather enough information to commit heinous crimes against children. Predators who choose their victims through social networking are often hard to identify once the crime takes place. This is especially true if the predator never actually contacted the victim using the social networking site but instead just used it to gain a wealth of information that made the victim an easy target. This is why it is so important that parents use internet control effectively.
What can parents do?
The Kids Safety @ Facebook survey conducted by MinorMonitor.com found that more than half of parents whose kids use the social networking site Facebook are worried about their children interacting with online predators. Parents should not only be “worried.” They should be doing whatever possible to protect their children from online predators. The problem is not going away. As Facebook becomes increasingly popular among kids, it also peaks the interest of internet predators. Parents must take initiative now to protect their children. What can parents do to help reduce the risk of their children becoming involved with an online predator?
- Make children aware of the dangers. Because Facebook users are becoming younger and younger, it can be difficult for parents to really explain the dangers of the website. Children should know what an online predator is and be aware of the characteristics and warning signs that follow predators.
- Get involved. Letting children have free access to the internet should never be an option. 51% of parents surveyed said that they monitor their child’s profile by having login information. While this is certainly a step in the right direction, it isn’t enough. Parents must utilize this information and dig deep into what is really going on in the online community. They must know what red flags to look for and look for them often.
- Set boundaries. Parents can help reduce the risk associated with online predators by setting boundaries. Boundaries should include a limitation on the time spent on the internet, strict guidelines on who their child can “friend,” open communication about actions on social networking sites, and a “no deletion” policy. The problem with setting boundaries is that kids can often find ways to outsmart their parents. Parents should never depend only on boundaries to protect their children.
- Parental control software. With the presence of online predators increasing daily, parents should cling to options made available to them by people who have realized the dangers and taken initiative to provide protection. Software programs such as that provided by MinorMonitor give parents the upper hand in protecting their children from many of the dangers that exist in the online environment, including online predators. With the use of exceptional software, parents can have somewhat of a peace of mind knowing someone else is watching out for their child too.
The presence of predators online will never go away. Parents can only arm themselves with information, tools, and involvement to help protect their children. The ultimate protection comes when parents begin using internet control to reduce the risks.
Terms associated with Online Predators
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