Computers have become almost as common in homes today as televisions. Of course, computers are generally used by the whole family, and they are wonderfully educational and communication tools. However, computer technology has opened up a whole new area of concern regarding the safety of children.
For many preteens and teens, the computer has virtually taken the place of the telephone. Because children can chat with several friends at once online, they choose to communicate with their peers via instant messaging instead of using a phone. Actually, communicating in a private chat room with friends is usually harmless. As long as these friends are other children that the child knows personally, there shouldn’t be a problem with using the computer for communication purposes.
The danger in using computers lies in online sexual predators. These people log-on to the Internet in search of young people to meet. Once they’ve made the initial contact with a child, they attempt to get to know the child better. After they’ve established a virtual relationship, they find out as much personal information as they can, including that child’s address, phone number, school, etc.
The main goal of a sexual predator is to set up a time to meet with a child. There are horror stories daily in the paper about children who have met someone online and proceeded to meet them personally. These children may then go with the person willingly, or they are taken against their will.
What can you do to protect your child? Do not let your child have a computer in her room. Place your computer in a family area, such as the kitchen, den, or dining room. As your child uses the computer, make an effort to notice what she is doing. Ask her questions about whom she is talking to or what she is doing. She may think you are being nosy, but explain to her that you are concerned for her safety.
Caution your child to never give out personal information over the computer. Some teens love to develop personal websites. Others may keep a daily or weekly journal online. While these are great ways for your teen to express her creativity, she still needs to keep everything on a first name basis only. If she wants her friends to visit her website or journal, she should e-mail them the information that they need to find her site. She should never place her personal information such as her last name, address, and phone number on the web site or journal.
Your child should stay out of public chat rooms. Online predators are notorious for searching for their victims in public chat rooms. They may pose as a teenager and obtain your child’s personal information. If someone instant messages your child, and she does not know that person’s identity, tell her that she should not respond. You can set blocks on your Internet service that will block particular screen names from contacting your child just like you can block callers on your phone service.
Most Internet services provide parental controls. Take advantage of these controls. If setting them becomes confusing, contact your Internet service provider for assistance. Some services provide a daily or weekly report on your child’s activities. These reports will contain the websites that your child visited or attempted to visit.
Finally, if you feel that someone is trying to contact your child with the intent of harming him or her, contact your local police or sheriff. Be sure and give them as many details as possible, including the person’s screen name, times they have tried to contact your child, and anything they have said. You can save a copy of the instant message or chat conversation to give to the police. Computers can teach children so many things, but they must be used wisely to keep children safe.Finally,