Using social media tools such as networking sites, email, chat rooms and instant messaging on the Internet can expose children to Internet predators. The Internet is an anonymous forum, which can allow intimacy and trust to develop quite quickly.
Predators may take advantage of this and start building online friendships with inexperienced young people.
Children are quite naïve when it comes to the dangers associated with predators online and they think that they can take care of themselves on their own. Parents need to help protect their children from online predators by knowing what risks are involved and how to minimize them when their children are on the Internet.
How do Internet predators work?
Internet predators zero in on children through social networking sites, blogs, instant messaging, email, chat rooms and other discussion forums. They try to gain the trust and seduce their target by giving the child a lot of attention, kindness, affection and even gifts. The predators tend to talk about things that would interest children such as music, sports, movies, video games, and television shows.
Online predators will sympathize and listen to every little problem of your child - which is commonly known as "grooming". They may even evaluate the children they meet on the Internet for further personal contact
How can parents reduce the risk of their child becoming a victim?
As a parent you need to talk to your child and educate them about sexual predators and other illegal activities that the child could get involved in on the Internet. Parental guidance is necessary when children access the Internet.
You can utilize parental control software to monitor Internet activity and block pages that contain sensitive or unauthorized information. Most of the operating systems come with default parental control software or you can also download for free from the operating system’s website.
Make sure your children don’t sign up on to social networking sites before reaching the recommended age limit. The dangers of a chat room are many, so direct your child towards well-monitored and educative kids’ chat rooms. Also, monitor these chat rooms to see the kind of discussions and conversations that take place.
Place the computer that your child uses for Internet access in the common room of the house. This way it becomes much more difficult for the predator to try and connect with your child as the screen of the computer is visible, making it easier to monitor potentially dangerous activity.
Constantly remind your child that making friends with strangers is extremely dangerous and get them to avoid replying to strangers’ mails or instant messages. Also, inform them that people are not necessarily who they say they are online. That is, the person your young daughter believes to be a 13 year-old girl may actually be a 50 year-old man. Even with all these precautionary measures, if your child ends up meeting an Internet predator don’t blame your him or her. Instead, take immediate steps to shield your child from any further interaction with the predator.
What should you do if your child is being targeted?
If your child is solicited sexually through any form of online correspondence or has somehow fallen prey to illegal activities online then contact the police instantly. Make sure you share all the information you have regarding the predator and his activity so that you can share it with the police. You can also use CyberTipline to report incidents of child sexual exploitation.
Also, check your computer thoroughly for signs of any sexual communication like pornographic files or other inappropriate material. This may indicate that your child is already a victim of an online predator and the authorities will help your child get out of the situation.