Children are starting to use the Internet and computers at a younger and younger age every year. Because they are often trusting, naïve, curious and eager for attention and affection, predators will target them online in order to take advantage of them.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reports that less than 5 percent of parents are aware of online sexual exploitation and even fewer think their child is at risk. It is important to know the dangers children face on the Internet and how to reduce the risks of being victimized. The Internet is part of life now. Teach your children to be “street smart” in order to safeguard themselves in any potentially uncomfortable or dangerous situation.
Know the dangers associated with the sites that your children frequent.
Talk to your children about the dangers associated with social networking sites and posting photos and personal information. Communication is the most important tool you have. Talk about people who may be online but may not actually be who they say they are. If your child is communicating with someone online that they don’t know in person, it could be anyone. Once a photo is posted online or shared through text messaging, it is impossible to know where that picture has gone and you can’t get it back. Photos can be manipulated. Photos can be saved by sex offenders.
Teach your child not to communicate with someone they don’t know.
Sexual predators use the Internet to find victims. Personal information posted online by a child can help a stranger find them. Strangers pose as other children in chat rooms and gain the confidence of their victims by chatting about the latest trends, music, fashions and celebrities. Chat rooms can lead to private conversations, e-mails, instant messages, text messages and photo exchanges. If your children talk in chat rooms, chances are they are talking to strangers. It takes very little information for someone to find out where a child lives, goes to school or spends their free time. Smartphone applications that use GPS location-based services can also automatically track the user’s location without them providing any information. Please refer to the Technical Resources section below to manage and disable location-based services on smartphones.
Talk with your child about encountering pornography.
Teach your child that if they encounter pornography, to turn off the power and get an adult. This can prevent a child from attempting to stop the situation by clicking more buttons and inadvertently spreading the attack or being exposed to more pornography. If your child tells you about something they encountered on the Internet, don’t blame your child. Instead help him or her avoid problems in the future. How you respond will determine whether they confide in you the next time they encounter a problem and how they learn to deal with problems on their own.
All account settings for children and teens should be set to private.
Software is an effective way to filter dangerous content. Research what is available and choose what is best for your family. Install an Internet filter or family safety software, but don’t totally rely on this to protect your child. They easily can gain access to computers and electronic devices that are outside of your control. Stay involved.
Protect your identity.
Choose a password that isn’t obvious. Don’t use your birthday or year in any online logins or passwords. Keep passwords private. Don’t share them with anyone.
Manage your child’s time on the Internet and cell phones.
When you set guidelines or limits for your child’s Internet and online use, you reduce their chances of being exposed to inappropriate content. Many children use their phone to text message late into the night and keep their phones in their bedrooms while they sleep. Consider having a centralized resting place for the phones to charge while family members are sleeping.
Set guidelines and enforce consequences if they are not followed.
Make sure your child knows the rules for using the Internet and cell phones, as well as the consequences if they break the rules.
Create a relationship with your child that fosters trust and open communication.
Open communication and trust is key. Make sure your child knows they can come to you about anything. If your child comes to you about an upsetting message, person, image or website, or being approached by a stranger, be careful not to blame your child but help him or her avoid problems in the future. Remember that how you respond will determine whether they confide in you the next time they encounter a problem and also how they learn to deal with problems on their own.
Become familiar with the websites and games your child plays.
Also, know about the apps that your child uses. Most children know more about the Internet than adults do. As a result, many parents do not supervise their children’s Internet use. If you don’t understand a game site or website, ask your child to show you. Below are a few of the more popular apps that are commonly used to share information, including physical location pictures and videos:
SnapChat: SnapChat is a video messaging app. In May 2014, the app’s users were sending 700 million photos and videos per day, while Snapchat Stories content was being viewed 500 million times per day. Users may think that SnapChat images are safer because they can delete the snap, however the images can still be copied and retained by other users.
Tinder: Tinder is a location-based social discovery application that facilitates communication between mutually interested users. The dating app allows users to chat with their matches. As of late 2014, an estimated 50 million people use the app every month with an average of 12 million matches per day. For example, users with similar interests like sports or video games can be alerted to other users in their physical vicinity so that they can meet up.
Blendr: Blendr is a geosocial networking application and social discovery app. The application combines GPS location sensing with a social networking framework, to provide users with the opportunity to meet people who are within a close physical proximity. Users must be over the age of 18.
Kik Messenger: Kik Messenger is an instant messaging application for mobile devices. In January 2015, Kik reached 200 million registered users.
WhatsApp: WhatsApp is an instant messaging app for smartphones. In April 2015, WhatsApp reached 800 million active users.
Video games and game sites: Play the game; don’t give out your name.
Many children and teenagers play games online where they can communicate with others who also are playing the game. If your children want to communicate with others on the sites, caution them to talk only about the game, not personal information.
Understand that once information is sent electronically, you lose control of how it is distributed and shared.
Once sent, transferred, or posted, meaningful control over a picture, video or personally identifying information is GONE. Information may spread and reproduce virally, growing at an exponential rate. Legal remedies may be inadequate because stopping the distribution is not as simple as deleting a post or asking the recipient to delete the information.
RESOURCES FOR PARENTS
NetSmartz Workshop: www.netsmartz.org – NetSmartz Workshop is an interactive, educational program of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children® (NCMEC) that provides age-appropriate resources to help teach children how to be safer on- and offline. The program is designed for children ages 5-17, parents and guardians, educators, and law enforcement.
Safe2Tell: www.safe2tell.org – 877-542-SAFE (7233) – Anonymous reporting of bullying, sexting, or other safety concerns.
Parenting Safe Children: Parentingsafechildren.com – Free online safety agreement and resources for parents.
i love u guys Foundation: iloveuguys.org – Advancing student and school safety.
SafeKids.com: www.safekids.com – Dedicated to Internet safety and civility.
ConnectSafely: www.connectsafely.org – Dedicated to educating users of connected technology about safety, privacy and security.
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