Online Predators & Strangers

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1 Online Predators & Strangers When children go online, they have direct access to their friends and family members, but they also may come into contact with complete strangers. Through the internet, online predators have easy and anonymous access to children. The Grooming Process Our kids are seeking attention, affirmation, and love, and online predators are skilled at preying upon these vulnerabilities. Initial conversations often appear innocent, but over time, a predator will seek to establish trust and seek to control their victim. A groomer will test boundaries and exploit a child s natural curiosities about sex and may use pornography to lower a child s sexual inhibitions. Online predators will often try to drive a wedge between a child and his or her parents and friends and will flatter and compliment the child excessively. By sympathizing and supporting a child through every conversation topic, a predator can often quickly become a very important person in a vulnerable youth s life. An online predator will typically prey upon a teen s desire for romance and adventure and will promise a youth an exciting, stress-free life. Victims will often describe the perpetrator as their best friend or the only person who understands them." In most cases of internet-initiated crime against youth, a teen has been so brainwashed or groomed by a perpetrator that they will meet up with them willingly and repeatedly for sexual contact. Warning Signs Be aware of whom your kids are communicating with and what activities they are engaging in. If they become obsessed about being online, or are secretive and withdrawn from family and friends, then you should have a conversation with them. If you find that they are downloading pornography or even creating child pornography, they most likely have had some type of inappropriate exposure to pornography or inappropriate contact with a peer or predator. If your child receives phone calls or presents from people you do not know, this is a telltale sign that your son or daughter may be at risk. If you ever find evidence that your child is communicating with an online predator, contact the local authorities immediately. Parent Tips Communication is key to protecting your children, whether from online predators, cyberbullies, or internet pornography. Pay attention to what your kids are doing online and who they are communicating with. Be aware that kids often communicate with strangers through multiplayer gaming devices, so consider limiting their access to strangers in these spaces. Supervise all their online activity by keeping the computer in a common space and using monitoring software and parental controls on all internet-enabled devices. Your kids should only be online friends with people they know and trust offline individuals who are mom- and dad-approved.

2 Ask your kids what sites they visit and check to make sure they are using privacy settings on social networking sites. Ask your kids non-threatening questions and avoid overreacting if you realize your kids have been talking to strangers online. Ask your kids if an online stranger has tried to befriend them or said anything that makes them feel uncomfortable. Has an online friend asked for personal information? Talked about sex? Asked for or sent sexual pictures? Tell your child to come to you if anyone makes them feel uncomfortable or threatened. Remind your kids that nothing that they ever do will change the fact that you love and care for them. Additional Resources Amber Alert: Instant community, law enforcement and media support when a child goes missing Family Watch Dog: Provides families with a comprehensive report on registered sex offenders in their neighborhood SafeEyes: Parental control software X3watch: Accountability software CyberTipline: Resource to report any form of child victimization, exploitation or Internet-initiated crime. Information is coordinated and forwarded to law enforcement for investigation and review Stats 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused before adulthood. Sadly, the majority of this abuse is perpetrated by a family member or someone whom the victim knows and trusts. 1 in 7 kids receives a sexual solicitation while online. 13% of 2nd-3rd grade students report that they have used the internet to talk to people they do not know. 11% of these students report having been asked to describe private things about their body, and 10% have been exposed to private things about someone else s body. 9% of children in 7th-9th grade have accepted an online invitation to meet someone in person, and 10% have asked someone online to meet them in person.

3 Sexting While new technology allows tweens and teens to keep in regular contact with their peers and family members, the instant and often unbridled ability to connect, communicate, and share has fueled some teen risky behavior. One such risky behavior is sexting," when mobile phone users, often teens and tweens, create and exchange provocative, nude, semi-nude (like a topless picture), or sexual images of themselves online by using their phone s built-in digital camera, computer, or other connected device. This activity can have series psychological and legal consequences, so it is vital that parents communicate with their kids about this risky behavior. The Research Several national studies have been conducted over the past few years indicating that anywhere from 5-20% of teens are engaging in sexting. Regardless of the percentage, sexting can lead to serious repercussions. Police are currently investigating teens throughout the country for sending, receiving, and creating nude images of themselves and others, with consequences ranging from suspension to felony charges for the creation and distribution of child pornography. Parent Tips: Talk with your kids about sexting. Kids want and need adult guidance. Set clear boundaries regarding appropriate and inappropriate internet and mobile use. Ask your kids what they know about sexting and if any of their friends have sent or received a sext message. Understand that there are serious legal consequences. Your child should never take or send a sexually suggestive image of themselves or anyone else. If they do, they could be charged for creating or distributing child pornography. If they keep any sext images of their peers, even if they did not take them, they could be charged with possession of child pornography. Talk to your kids about the emotional and peer-related consequences. Sext messages can be shared instantly through connected devices. More often than not, a sext does not remain with the intended recipient. These images can never be erased and can be archived, uploaded, copied and forwarded forever. Know who your child is communicating with online and through their mobile device. Consider placing limits on electronic communication. Check out the parental controls offered by your mobile provider. Many mobile carriers offer family plans that allow you to limit the amount and type of text messages your kids can send. Also disable attachments or picture texts on text messages to more comprehensively protect them from engaging in sexting. Measure your response. If you find that your child has received a sext message, consider going to the other parents involved before going to the local police. You want to protect your child, but be careful not to unnecessarily incriminate your child or one of their peers. If malice or criminal intent is involved, then it would be wise to consider consulting with an attorney, the police, or an expert.

4 Social Networking Although there are many benefits to social networking sites, there are some very real dangers. Teens and tweens can share too much information or post pictures, videos, or comments that could damage reputations or hurt someone s feelings. Teens also have access to unhealthy groups, pornography, and strangers through these sites. Social sites can also amplify, perpetuate, and widely distribute real-life problems or conflicts at an incredibly rapid rate, so it s vitally important that parents help their children learn how to navigate these spaces safely. Parenting Tips Familiarize yourself with social networking sites. Before allowing your child to set up a social networking site, set up your own profile. Become familiar with the online culture of the site, the privacy settings and the interactive features available. If you do allow your kids to have a social networking profile, set up the page together and make sure you are online friends with your teen. Talk with your kids about what appropriate behavior looks like online, and help them to think before they post. Remind your kids that there are no take-backs online. Once something is posted or sent online, it is very difficult to regain control of that content. Any image can be copied, forwarded, altered, or shared in the virtual world. Know what your kids are doing and with whom they are communicating. We recommend that your children only be connected online withpeople they know and trust in the physical world. Review your child s friend list and ask them how they know the individuals they are connected with. Use privacy settings to restrict who can access and post on your child s profile. We recommend using a strict setting such that only your kid s online friends have access to the information, photos, and videos on their social networking page. Talk to your teen about avoiding talk about sex online. Teens are seeking love, attention, and affirmation, and chances are good that there is an online peer, stranger, or even a predator willing to give them the attention their hormones crave. Understand that in our sexualized culture, many teens feel pressure to post and send provocative images, texts, comments, and videos. Help them to know to come to you if they are ever contacted by a stranger or someone who makes them uncomfortable online, and consider blocking any individual who attempts to connect with your child that they don t know in the physical world. Tell your kids not to impersonate, exclude or attack another individual online. Using technology to be cruel to one another will not only hurt feelings but could also place your child at legal risk. Consider monitoring your child s social networking activity. Whether as an online friend

5 through the site or by having access to your child s online sites and passwords, keeping up-tospeed with your kid s online activities is very important. Consider also using monitoring software like X3watch which can help you stay informed about any risky behaviors or tricky situations they may encounter online. Don t overreact. If something negative does happen, take a few deep breaths and try to remain calm. You want to keep the conversation going and help your child think critically about their online actions. You want to make sure they know you are a safe place to come if something gets out of hand or if they run into trouble online. Teach your child to: Be honest about their age Remember social networking sites are public spaces Avoid posting anything that could embarrass them or expose them to danger Check comments, posts, messages, and tags regularly Avoid inappropriate content and behavior Use privacy settings Think before they post More resources can be found at: iparent.tv

6 Cyberbullying We all probably experienced some form of bullying as we were growing up, but for most of us, we could find refuge from the neighborhood or schoolyard bully inside the safe walls of our home. Today s tech-savvy kids are using technology to target their peers, and unfortunately, there are no off hours; cyberbullying can occur 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Cyberbullying is defined as bullying or harassment that happens online or through networkconnected devices. This willful and repeated harm, inflicted through technology, might involve rumors, name-calling, or images or videos posted on someone s profile or forwarded or shared online for others to see. Sometimes a bully will even impersonate a peer or create a group or page that makes fun of an individual or makes them feel left out. Parent Tips Talk to your kids about bullying. Ask your child: "Has anyone ever hurt your feelings by anything they posted about you online or sent you via text? Have you ever texted, messaged, or posted anything online that you wish you could take back? What messages do your pictures and posts say about you? Could anyone use the images, videos, or messages you post online to make fun or bully you?" What kinds of information do you consider safe and unsafe? Have any of your friends been cyberbullied? How did that make you feel? What would you do if a friend was being bullied online? Are your profiles set to private? Help them to understand that if they wouldn t say it to a person s face, then they shouldn t say it online. Ask your kids to come to you and let you know if they ever feel threatened, hurt, or scared by an online message, text, or image. If you ever fear for your child s safety, contact local authorities immediately. Check up on your child s texts and online communications. Use privacy controls on social networking profiles, and remind your child never to share their password to a peer. Don t overreact or escalate the situation. If your child is targeted by a cyberbully, tell them not to respond. Bullies are typically hoping to engage with and elicit a reaction from their targets. Instead, encourage your child to come to you if the bullying continues. Block or delete the bully, but keep a copy of the evidence. If your child is being bullied online, use the technology resources available to block them, remove them from your child s friend or buddy list, or block the user s and phone number. If you do find that your child has been bullied, don t delete the evidence; if legal measures must be taken, you will need the chats, messages, and copies of the texts for authorities. Help stop cyberbullying. If your child sees cyberbullying happening to someone else, encourage him or her to try to stop it. Your child should abstain from forwarding or sharing any cyberbullying content from another peer and should ask the bully to stop. Your child can also report the bullying to social networking sites or talk to you about engaging with the bully s parents. Watch out for warning signs that your child may be the victim of a cyberbully. If your child is reluctant to go to school, get online, use their mobile device, or if you notice a sharp change in mood or behavior, they may be victims of cyberbullying.

7 Consider using monitoring software like X3watch to help keep you up to speed on what your kids are doing online. Other resources:

8 Internet Safety Age-Based Quick Tips In this ever-evolving, technology-driven world, our kids have developed a level of digital proficiency bewildering to most of us parents, and many parents are not adequately educated about the threats that their kids face today. As a result, when we as parents are not informed and involved in our kids online lives, we leave our kids at risk of encountering pornography, predators, cyberbullies, identity thieves, and other online threats. As such, we ve developed these basic, age-based tips to help you parent in the digital age. Basics for Every Age Keep the conversation going and the lines of communication open. Talking internet safety is not a one-time event kids will need consistent reinforcement, guidance, and help as they grow and learn with technology. Create a list of internet rules with your kids regarding what they can do, where they can go, and with whom they can communicate online and through any mobile or gaming device. Use parental controls like X3watch to filter, to monitor, to set time limits, and to tailor your child s online access. Remind your kids to come to you if they every feel scared, threatened or uncomfortable by something or someone they encounter online. Remember not to overreact or blame your child you want to set a strong foundation for future conversations. Supervise and monitor use of all internet-enabled technologies. Make sure you keep the computer in a public area of the house, but be aware that your child can access all of the good and bad of the Internet through their cell phone and gaming device. Teach your child the golden rule: to treat others as they would like to be treated. Ages 2-4 A lot of parents are surprised when they realize just how technology-proficient their kids are. Remember that at this age, even though they may know how to use your smartphone better than you, your kids are not mentally ready to cope with the interactive nature and the potentially dangerous content they might access through the internet. Typically kids at this age don t have the critical thinking skills to be online alone, and they can be easily frightened by media images and content they encounter. Recognize that it is very easy for kids this young to move from appropriate to inappropriate sites and to click on advertisements or links that could be problematic. As such, the safest way to go it to sit with your child as they use technology, to use strong filters, and to begin teaching the basics of appropriate online behavior through ageappropriate games and sites. Ages 5-7

9 Kids at this age are very capable of using computers, phones, and gaming devices, but they still don t have the critical thinking skills to be online or use technology without close parental supervision. They are also, unfortunately, often exposed to inappropriate websites (the vast majority of this exposure is accidental, but we are aware of kids at this age that intentionally access pornographic websites). Many kids are required to set up an account with their preschool, and they may be vulnerable to online marketers, surveys, contests, viruses, etc. as they use their accounts and as they navigate the web. It s still a good idea to sit with your children when they are online and using any technology. Make sure you are using ageappropriate filters and that you start talking to your kids about privacy and protecting themselves online. For the most part, kids at this age shouldn t be using chat, social networking sites, message boards or participating in online communities. It s best if your kid uses a nickname while online at this age and that they avoid posting any personally identifiable information. Ages 8-10 As our kids move closer to their teenage years, they become much more interested in the activities of older kids in their lives. They begin to develop a sense of their own identity, and they may do a bit more exploring online, but, for the most part, they still tend to be trusting and do not often question authority figures in their lives. While they may be using , social networking sites, and other interactive sites, they still lack the critical thinking skills to be online alone, and more likely than not, they aren t really ready to be using highly interactive sites online. Kids at this age are often very curious and will use the internet to seek out answers to questions (they may look up information about sex, for example, so make sure those filters are on!). They also generally tend to enjoy surfing online and enjoy using the internet for its games and videos. Kids at this age are also very susceptible to the media images, videos, personalities, and celebrities they perceive as cool so being aware of what your kids are seeing is very important at this age. It s safest if you still sit with your kids or near your kids as they are using the computer or any other internet-enabled device. Don t allow your kids to instant message, use chatrooms, or set up profiles on social networking sites intended for older audiences (like Facebook and Myspace). Make sure you keep tabs on your child s online activities and friends, and talk with them about their online friends and activities just as your would about their offline lives. Continue to teach your kids to come to you before giving out any information through , personal profiles, online contests, or whenever they encounter anything upsetting online. Ages Kids at this age are generally required to use the internet to help with schoolwork, but they are also highly social online. They tend to others, connect on social networking sites, chat, play online games and explore new technology with little trepidation. They generally feel in control and as if they know better than their parents about how to navigate the internet. They are highly influenced by what their friends are doing online. They crave independence and may be interested in building relationships online and communicating with strangers online.

10 Kids at this age are also at a very sensitive time in their sexual development, and boys are most likely at this age to begin seeking out pornography. Girls may try to imitate provocative media images and behaviors and may begin to engage in some risky behaviors while online. It s important to keep the computer and all internet-enabled devices your kid uses in the open and out of bedrooms. Talk with your kids about their online friends and activities and instruct your child that they should never meet face-to-face with anyone they only know online. As a parent, you should have access and the passwords to all of your kid s online accounts, and limit their online and mobile connections to a parent-approved buddy list. You should also talk to your kids about ethical online behavior they should not be using the internet to spread gossip, bully or harass their peers. Your child should not post pictures or videos without your approval. Ages Teenagers may push the boundaries of safe online behavior by looking for pornography, gross humor, gore, drug, and gambling sites; they are also more likely to engage with strangers, receive sexual solicitations, and they are more apt to accept requests to meet online friend in person. Kids at this age are craving both group identity and independence from their parents. Remember that although they may begin to show signs of maturity, their prefrontal cortex the part of the brain responsible for discernment, reason, judgment and emotional maturity is not fully developed until they reach their early to mid-twenties, so they are still susceptible to making some bad decisions while online. It s important for parents to continue to be involved in their teen s online life. Teach your teens to be responsible with what they post, text, and send, and remind them there are no take-backs online. Talk to them about what they are doing, where they are going, and with whom they are communicating with online. Teach your kids to protect their personal information, and remind your kids that they should not talk with strangers online. Also, oversee financial transactions online and any content and videos they are watching and downloading online.

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