Online communication is an important aspect of the Internet.Online communication can be established on the web by various tools, all falling under the generic name – social software.Social software covers a range of software and technologies used by Internet users to interact with each other. It covers different means of online communication techniques such as text messaging, voice communication and video in diverse Internet environments. Social software includes: email, IM (=Instant Message), P2P (=Peer-to-Peer networks), newsgroups, chatrooms, forums, blogs, social network services, virtual worlds etc.When you use online communication you have the ability to choose how you want to present yourself in a specific situation. Online communication allows you to be open about who you are, be anonymous or make up a new persona. This aspect has a major affect on the authenticity of online relationships.Anonymous online communication holds serious risk factors for children. They can easily become victims of abuse by individuals communicating with them due to lack of mature judgment skills. Sometimes they are not able to interpret the nature of the relationship correctly and can be misled, bullied, abused or fall victim to scams and ploys.Child predators take advantage of the anonymity in online communication and target unsuspecting children usually for sexual or other abusive purposes.In order for parents to protect their children from such predators, they should become involved in their children’s web activities and learn how to recognize a problematic online relationship.How Do Child Predators Work?Child predators use the anonymous nature of online communication in order to contact children and gradually seduce them into an online relationship. This relationship might end in sexual abuse.They use various forms of online communication, such as, IM, chatrooms, forums, newsgroups, and virtual worlds to target potential victims.Child predators invest a lot of effort in targeting and seducing children into a relationship. They often pose as children. They are knowledgeable in children’s popular hobbies and interests. They seduce children by giving them attention, affection, understanding, kindness and sometimes gifts. They try to target vulnerable kids who crave for attention and affection.Who Is Vulnerable?All children that use the Internet are at risk. It is more likely that children will be exposed to unsuitable material than encounter an online predator, but the outcome of such encounters is so severe that parents can not be indifferent to this issue. Although all children are at risk, young adolescents are the most vulnerable age group due to the specific characteristics of this age group. Children in this age group usually have good technological and language abilities that allow them to surf freely without adult help. They are frequent users of social software such as, IM (=Instant Message) , P2P (=Peer-to-Peer networks), social network services and newsgroups.On the other hand, they lack the maturity and experience to help them understand the content that they encounter when surfing. They can easily misinterpret an online relationship, especially one which engages an adult with ulterior motives.-They want to be free of their parents’ control and to gain respect as grown-ups.
-They explore their sexuality and have the desire to socialize.
-They are in the rebellious phase of their lives and try to establish relationships outside the family. Child predators are well aware of these facts and exploit them.Victims of child predators might be:
Seeking attention and affection.
New on the Internet scene and unaware of web ethics.
Lacking in social skills in the real world.
Unpopular in their social circle.
Confused regarding their sexual identity.
Naïve and unsophisticated in comparison to their age group.
What Can Parents Do to Protect Their Children?
Show an interest in your children’s Internet activities. Nothing can be as effective as good communication when discussing means to protect them in the cyber world. Don’t be judgmental. Try to understand their experiences and understand their frustration expressed against your efforts to manage their Internet use.
Be a role model. Direct your children to appropriate websites that could be of interest to them. Teach your children web ethics and explain to them about the threats exist on the Internet.
Become Internet savvy. If you have knowledge about services and applications that are available on the Internet, you will be more effective when guiding your children.
Supervise your children when they use the Internet. If you have young children, make sure that the PC they are using is in a family space.
Define clear guidelines for your children for Internet use. You can define an Internet use policy. Place the use policy near the PC that they use to keep the rules visible at all times.
Much in the same way you educate your children not to talk to strangers in the real world, educate them not to communicate with strangers online. Instruct your children not to answer IM or emails from people they don’t know.
Young children should not use social software such as: chatrooms, IM, newsgroups, forums and so on. The risks far outweigh the benefits. As for young adolescents and adolescents, make sure that they only use monitored children’s chatrooms, newsgroups or forums. Instruct your children never to leave the public chatroom area. (Chatrooms usually offer the option of a private chat were the conversation is not monitored and can not be seen by others).
Don’t allow your children to meet with Internet friends in person without your approval and supervision.
Don’t allow your children to use a private email account. Let them use the family account or an alias you have created for them in order for you to monitor the incoming and outgoing emails.
Help your children to create a safe username or nickname in the social software tools that they use. A safe username/nickname should not reveal personal information, gender or age.
If your children use the Internet in unsupervised places such as, libraries, school or friends’ houses, check the security measures that are enforced at these places.
Instruct your children never to give away personal information online without your approval.
Instruct your children not to upload personal photos to the web without your approval.
Instruct your children not to accept photos or files from strangers without your approval.
Encourage your children to let you know if they encounter any strange behavior or behavior that caused them an uncomfortable feeling. Instruct them on what to do if they encounter such behavior. For example, turning off the PC and notifying a parent.
How Can You Recognize If Your Child Was Targeted By an Online Predator?Your child may:
Withdraw from family and friends.
Seem depressed and moody.
Be aggressive towards members of the family. Child predators try to emphasize problems that the child has at home which can cause an aggressive behavior.
Spend a lot of time online, especially in chatrooms.
Have pornography on the computer. Child predators often send pornography to children.
Try to hide his/her Internet activities from you. For example, Opens a private email account, hides the computer screen or shuts down the PC when adult approaches.
Spend a lot of time on the Internet at friends’ houses in order to avoid your supervision.
Receive presents from people you don’t know.
Receive emails from people you don’t know.
Receive phone calls from people you don’t know. Child predators sometimes try to seduce children to engage in phone sex.
If you have suspicions, don’t hesitate to confront your child about it.Emphasize again the guidelines for safe web surfing to your child.You can also monitor your child Internet activities by using Internet Parental Control software.If you choose to do so without the child’s knowledge, be aware that it can result in a loss of trust between you and your child.If all the safety measures you have tried don’t work and you find out that your child is a victim of a child predator or in initial contact with one, the most important thing is not to blame the child. Always remember that the blame is on the offender.Immediately contact –
Your local law-enforcement agency.
CyberTipline 1-800-843-5678 – This tipline is managed by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), which has representatives from the FBI, the U.S. Customs Service (USCS), and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service at its headquarters. You can report incidents of child sexual exploitation, including child pornography, online enticement of children for sexual acts, child prostitution, child-sex tourism, and child sexual molestation.
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