The Internet can be a risky place, especially if you do not know how to tell if your child is at risk. Keeping children safe on the Internet is everyone’s job. Parents need to stay in close contact with their children as they explore the Internet. Teachers need to help students use the Internet appropriately and safely. Libraries, after-school programs and other community groups should help educate the public about online safety. With guidance from their families and communities, children and teens can learn to take responsibility for their own behavior online. The Internet can serve children and teens well by helping them to think critically about the choices they will face. Learning how to make good choices is a skill that will last young people a lifetime. Children, especially adolescents, are many times interested in and curious about sexuality and sexually explicit material. Sex offenders will use this curiosity to exploit and lure adolescents. So, watch for the warning signs that your child might be at risk online and protect them from such online predators.
There are signs that your child might be at risk on-line. Here are just a few of those signs:
Your child spends large amounts of time on-line, especially at night. Many children that fall victim to computer sex offenders, as well as other predators, spend large amounts of time on-line, mainly in chat rooms. While offenders are on-line at any time, day or night, children are at the greatest risk during the evening hours. Most on-line sex offenders work during the day and spend their evenings on-line trying to locate and lure children.
You find pornography on your child’s computer. Sex offenders will often times supply their potential victims with pornography as a means of opening sexual discussions. Child pornography may also be used to show the child victim that sex between children and adults is “normal.” If the computer is used by other family members, parents should be aware that a child may hide pornographic files on diskettes. So watch for this, check your computer history, and know where your child is going online.
Your child turns the computer monitor off or quickly changes the screen on the monitor when you come into the room. A child who is somewhere they should not be online, looking at pornographic material, or engaging in a sexually explicit conversation, will not want you to see it on the screen. So, watch their behavior, and be sure to check in frequently during Internet use.
Your child receives mail, gifts, or packages from someone you are not familiar with. It is common for sexual offenders to send letters, photographs, and gifts to their potential victims; this is part of the seduction process. Also, if your child starts to get a lot of junk mail they may be at risk for having their identity stolen, as it means they are providing their personal information online, even in surveys.
Your child becomes withdrawn from the family. Becoming withdrawn from family can be a normal part of adolescents, but computer sex offenders will work hard at driving a wedge between a child and their family so parents should be knowledgeable about what is normal and what is abnormal behavior for their child. Watch for any sudden changes in attitude, and ask yourself if there is a connection to increased computer use.
Your child is using an on-line account belonging to someone else. Computer predators and sex offenders will sometimes provide potential victims with a computer account for communications with them. Parents are not aware of the account, therefore unable to monitor their child’s online activities. So, take a look at screen names being used, pop ups, etc. see what name comes up.
If you suspect your child is communicating with a sexual predator, or any other predator on-line, you should first consider talking openly with your child about your suspicions. Review what is on your child’s computer. Remember pornography or any kind or sexual communication is a warning sign. Monitor your child’s access to all types of live electronic communications, such as chat rooms, and instant messages. You should also monitor all of your child’s e-mail. Almost always, computer sex offenders meet potential victims via chat rooms. After meeting a child on-line, they will continue to communicate via e-mail, private chat rooms, and instant messages. If you should find that your child has become victimized online, immediately contact your local or state law enforcement agency, the FBI, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. You should also keep your computer turned off in order to preserve evidence, until otherwise directed by law enforcement.