If you have read my agenda, you will notice that I am deviating from my intended order a bit simply because I feel that this topic is important and shouldn't wait.
I will go into computer security (or rather common sense) at a later date, but right now I want to address the issue of on-line predators. Beginning in 2008, after watching an episode of “To Catch a Predator”, I realized that I had no clue about on-line predators. I didn’t know who they were, how they chose their victims, how they communicated, where they could be found in the on-line world. I was dumb to a threat that (with kids) I would need to be wary of in several years’ time. So, I began researching. I knew that these guys were finding people in chat rooms, and I had a Yahoo account, so that is where I began. What I found there were mostly gay men, men looking for girls, and girls pretending to chat with you and then telling you to click on a link…which either they got money for or sent you to a porn website that you had to pay to view. No “predators” to my knowledge. That’s when I discovered Yahoo! 360. Yahoo! 360 allowed you to create an on-line profile and basically share anything you wanted to with the world. I created a profile and began perusing other users. I started messaging several users who had young sounding names such as “volleyball_16” or “15yrs_amy” and didn’t receive very many responses. But the responses I did receive and the chats I had turned out to be men pretending to be girls. It took me quite a while to figure that out but very few 16 year olds I know make small talk and then want a picture of my feet or start talking about how their dad used to molest them and they liked it. So that is what gave me the idea to create a profile pretending to be a 14 year old girl. It took maybe a day and I had over 50 requests to be friends, numerous messages on chat, and a bunch of emails. Most, like me, were guys pretending to be girls but they thought or wanted to believe I was a girl. One of the more sinister chats I had was with a young “girl” who asked me if I thought my parents would let me go to Spain, as the girl said she knew someone who could get me into modeling. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one “she” had made that offer to. I then created various profiles of different genders and different ages and by far the most “attractive” profile was the female aged between 13 and 16. Yahoo! 360 wasn’t the only place I found this kind of thing. Virtually every social site I went to had some form of predatory aspect to it. Flickr, Yahoo, Windows Live, Yahoo games, MySpace, Facebook, (though with the right privacy settings Facebook does a good job of protecting its users) and a myriad of other chat rooms and social sites. I have also seen young teens with their own webcams putting themselves out there voluntarily. The threat is there, it is real, and it is just a few clicks away. Regardless of whether they are male or female, as long as you are their legal guardian you NEED TO MONITOR YOUR CHILDREN! If you are not monitoring what your children are doing on-line you are wrong, plain and simple. If you need some help on this matter, I will throw out a few tips. And if you want some more info, by all means message me. I have spent a lot of late nights researching this and I wouldn’t recommend everyone trying their hand at it, but it is a serious threat that I feel needs to be addressed. I am confident that I can spot a fake within ten minutes of a conversation and out of the numerous conversations I have had over the past three years with people claiming to be a certain type of person, not one has been real. Not one! Which is a good thing and bad. It’s good because that means there are more fake than legit preteens and teens chatting, but it is bad because I have seen videos and live cams of teens and preteens doing things they shouldn’t which means those kids are out there and they don’t stand a chance against a grown adult who knows how to manipulate a child’s feelings. Also, there is a whole T.V. show and volunteer group dedicated to catching on-line predators as well so that should give this post some credibility to even the most skeptical.
I can’t address every situation, but below are a few tips to help keep your kids off pedophiles radar. Again, if you have a situation you need advice on or just want some more information let me know, I can’t cover everything here.
Let me start by saying that parents do need to trust their kids, and kids need to make their own mistakes in order to learn. But the internet is one area where kids MUST be monitored; at least until you as the adult are certain that they are using it responsibly. One great program to help with this is SpectorSoft spyware. It will record everything they do, it will record their passwords, pictures they post, emails they receive, and you can set times when they can and cannot access the internet (if you’re not home), among a ton of other things. Are you spying on your kids…yes. But do you think your kids are really going to give you access to their REAL email or Facebook account, especially if they are doing something they know they shouldn’t?
Be cognizant of what is in the pictures they post. It does no good to teach them about not sharing where they live or telephone number or email when they post a public picture of them wearing a school sweatshirt. All one has to do is Google that school and they will come up with a short list of where that child goes to school. Or, a person could look at your child’s friend list and even though the predator can’t access their profile, maybe they have an outfit on that proclaims what school they go to and it’s an easy assumption from there that your child goes to the same school. A lot of kids like to post track/volleyball/baseball pictures showing where they play as well. Once the predator knows what school your child goes to, it is easy pickings from there. I’m not saying that this kind of stalking is happening all of the time, but the potential is there and the risks of not mentoring your children far outweigh the hassle it will be to lend a firm, yet guiding hand.
With the amount of kids with cellphones these days, hardly anyone chats on a messenger service anymore unless the y have friends that live out of the country. Why would they with the convenience of texting? So if your child is chatting you need to find out with whom. Webcams are another issue. These items should be controlled by the parent and the child should have to ask for it. And if it’s a weekend and he/she is having a sleepover I wouldn’t recommend letting them play. Or if you do let them, make sure you monitor it by checking on them and checking what websites they have open, not just what is on the screen. I have seen that exact scenario play out countless of times on sites like JustinTV and Stickam. If you don't believe me go to videarn.com and you won't even have to click on the videos to see what I am talking about. Not only are the teens usually pushing the decency boundary in a sort of truth-or-dare like way (there is nothing but guys asking the girls to show their bodies or do things with each other), but identifiable information is almost always shown in what they are wearing, in the background, or what they say. On top of that, there are programs that allow people to record webcams, so even if your child does something inappropriate and gets kicked off the site there is a good chance his/her picture will still wind up on the internet.
I thought this was going to be a lengthy post but there is not much more to be said. The internet is like a door to your house, a door that can let any kind of person in the WORLD in. That kind of access is something that needs to be guarded and no child should have the power to make the decision of who should be let in. They are too vulnerable and easily manipulated at that age. Personally, I would talk to my child about internet safety but then secretly monitor them (key word is secret because if they know they are being watched you won’t get an honest assessment) until I am sure they are being responsible. Some of you will cringe at the thought of spying on your kids but that is the only way to ensure their safety (and yours) without damaging your relationship with them at this sensitive time in their lives by openly invading their privacy.
Best of luck.