Threats from the Internet

The Internet is a wonderful tool, demonstrated by your reading our website right now. However, it can pose serious danger and risk to children and adolescents. A decade ago, pedophiles would stalk places children frequented. Now they can sit in the comfort of their homes and talk with lots of children online. They can pose as children, even pose as people of the same gender as the child, and win their trust and confidence.

They have a very effective luring process. They know how to seduce children into trusting them. Almost 13 million children in the US use instant messaging and talk in chat rooms. One in 5 kids ages 10 -17 have been sexually solicited online and in a shocking 15% of those cases a predator attempted to meet with the child in person. The average age of exposure to pornography on the Web is 10.

Predators view the process of finding and tracking down a child as a hunt and a game. We call this process “grooming”. As parents we have to change our definition of what a “stranger” is. Actually, anyone online is a stranger, unless the child knew them prior (such as a classmate). In Pennsylvania alone, the FBI estimates there are approximately 7,000 men online attempting to reach out to children for the purpose of ultimately meeting them for sex.

One of the newest alarming situations is the inappropriate use of photo phones. Law enforcement has become aware that children and teenagers are taking photos of themselves, sometimes provocative and sometimes even nude and sending them to friends as a joke or a dare. However, these “friends” can post these photos on the Internet or send them anywhere. Ultimately they can end up being viewed by a predator, who easily traces who and where the child in the photo is. That can be a true safety risk for any child.

Some helpful tips for parents in the area of electronic communication:

  1. Never allow your child to post their photos on the Internet.
  2. Buy a filter system for your home computer.
  3. Don’t promise your child total privacy, let them know you will be monitoring their online conversations and that it is for their safety.
  4. Always have the computer in a public place in the home.
  5. Talk with them about alerting you if anyone asks personal information, or sends them offensive material, or wants to meet them in person. (as a parent you should then notify law enforcement, in Pennsylvania you can call the Attorney General’s Child Predator Unit at 1-800-692-7445.)
  6. Think about the appropriate age to give your child a photo phone. Cell phones are perhaps a way to keep track of your child, but at what age is your child able to act in a mature manner with a photo phone?

If you would be interested in a presentation about Internet Safety please call A Child’s Place at Mercy 412-232-7200.

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