Parents! Do you know what your children are doing online? Do you really know? When your son or daughter says they are doing homework on the computer, are they in an area where this can be verified? Or are they locked away in their bedroom, using the computer to do who knows what?
Millions of Americans were riveted to their television screens during the series "To Catch a Predator" that Dateline NBC aired showing dozens of predators who were attempting to meet up with people they thought were teenagers. In most of the cases, the men caught on tape on Dateline NBC thought they were going to the home of a 13 year old whose parents were out of town. 13 years old!!
These people were folks from every walk of life. There was a teacher, a rabbi (!), a busdriver. What was really shocking was that many of these folks already were working with children in their jobs every day.
YouTube ran a spot that showed what a chatroom would look like if the people involved were actually in a room together. You might wonder "what is that 50-something, married bald man doing talking to the 14 year old girl?" Of course he told the girl that he was 15. And who is the 'Psycho' guy who's obviously mad at the world and everyone in it? And who are those two single guys over in the corner having a private conversation? Except for the twist at the end, this YouTube spot was pretty true to life about what chatrooms are like and the type of people who frequent them.
Chatrooms are extremely popular among teens and young adults. Chatrooms are also targeted by predators trying to get with these kids for sex. This was obvious in To Catch a Predator and is inferred in the YouTube spot I mentioned. Social networking sites are also common among the young.
MySpace has been in the news lately because of the predators on that site looking for young people to victimize. MySpace and Facebook are the two top sites known as 'networking' sites for people to make friends. However, because of the relative 'anonymity' of the Internet, these are places that predators frequent looking for children to victimize. Many parents are wary of letting their children have a MySpace account at all; however, quite a few teachers and school personnel are reporting that kids as young as 5th grade claim to have profiles on MySpace.
On a forum that I like to frequent (which has a large number of users who are parents), one of the posters reported that some strange words had come up during searches. Words like "sex", "boobs", etc. This poster has several children; among them a son who is 11. However, shockingly enough, it wasn't the 11 year old who had been searching for these terms online. It was her six year old and his friends!! Six years old!! Now, I know kids will be curious and boys will give in to their curiosities. This is a normal part of growing up. But if I were the parent, I'd want my child's curiosities NOT abused by an online predator, looking to make a victim out of my kid.
What can parents do to ensure the safety of their children? First of all, parents need to talk to their children often about what types of things their children are interested in. Not only is this good communication, this can ensure the safety of a child. Second, parents can warn their children about online predators and how they often appear to be a friend at first. Third, parents must warn their children NOT to EVER give personal information out on the internet. No real names, phone numbers, addresses, or whatever. Fourth, parents must create a line of communication that allows their children to come to them and talk about it if they have been frightened or disturbed by someone online.
The FBI and law enforcement have been working toward making the internet a safer place for people in general. It is easier today than it was even six months ago to catch and prosectute an online stalker. This is an evolving subject for law enforcement, but great strides have already been made. If you feel your child was threatened, contact law enforement.
I have included a link to the actual YouTube chatroom spot on my website, which is dedicated to the safety of young people online. Like I said earlier, this "chatroom" is pretty true-to-life, but it shows what it would be like if the people were actually sitting in a room together. My site can be found here: