During our everyday life, we concern ourselves mainly with home security; enabling the security alarm, locking the door when we leave, etc. However, there’s another menace out there that is creeping through our society. This menace is Cyberstalking, the exploiting of our children through the Internet.
In my professional role in the Home Security Industry, I preach the values of the Internet, not only for us as adults and professionals, but also for our children. Our children have almost immediate access to any kind of information available throughout the world. Want to read A Tale Of Two Cities? It’s on the Internet. Have a question about who the third person to land on the moon was? It’s on the Internet. However, want to be exposed to nudity, pedophiles, and thousands (if not millions) of other social deviants? You bet it’s on the Internet and just a key touch away from your child or grandchild. So, what do we do about this?
First, we educate ourselves. Go to The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children website at www.ncmec.org and download their study “Online Victimization – A Report on the Nation’s Youth.” This report will provide an eye-opening look at the perils our children are under every time they access America Online, Compuserve, or the Internet via the local Internet Service Provider. It also provides a telling survey on how parents deal with their children’s use of the Internet. For example, over 85% of parents have talked with their children about being careful talking to strangers on the Net, and 97% of those polled check every now and then on what is on their child’s computer screen. But, only half the parents ever go back and actually check history to ensure the child is indeed staying out of potential problem sites, and only 39% set a limit on the amount of time their child can be on the Internet. Though it appears that parents do realize the potential exposure their children have on the Net, less than 1/2 play a truly diligent role in ensuring their child is protected.
Second, we educate others. Gather information from such sites as The National Center and tens of other child advocacy sites (including www.pta.org), and speak to your fellow parents in your school system about the dangers presented to our children on the Internet. Stay tuned for future articles on ways to prevent your children from being exposed to unsuitable material. Bottom line: be involved with your child’s Internet experience. They now have the world, literally, at their fingertips. Make the effort to have it at yours also.
The Seven Signs of Unsuitable Use or Contact From the Internet
Home security is about protecting your family, and the most overlooked means of entry is sitting in your living room, your Computer. The Internet has become a vast and great resource for our children to learn things they would never have had the opportunity to learn otherwise. We all remember having to go to the library to research our next term paper using the World Book encyclopedia or the Periodicals catalog. The Internet Age has allowed our children to receive, almost instantaneously, information it would otherwise have taken days to receive. This ‘instantaneous’ aspect of the Internet yields split second access to materials unsuitable for children to see or hear.
So with that said, here are seven warning signs that may show your child is using the Internet in unsuitable ways:
1 – Your child spends most of their home time on the Internet.
2 – Your child quickly turns off the monitor or shuts the computer down when you enter the computer room.
3 – You receive phone calls from strangers asking to speak to your child.
4 – You recognize outgoing phone calls, mostly long distance, from your residence to phone numbers you do not recognize.
5 – Your child begins receiving gifts from people and addresses that you do not recognize.
6 – Your child’s personality begins to change, becoming more combative when asked to reduce his/her computer usuage.
7 – You pull up pornographic or other unsuitable materials from your computer’s hard drive.
The major Internet access sites, including America Online, MSN, Earthlink, and others, have made it increasingly difficult for children to receive unsuitable material through their Internet connections. These services have also allowed the parent to restrict even more the online experience of their children. It is important that a parent reviews these increased security options and determine if they are applicable to the online situation.
However, most of these sites still allow access of minors to sites that are conducive to chatting and instant messages. It is these areas, as well as electronic mail, that provide the greatest risk to our children. Unlike the typical phone call, the Internet has no ‘face’ or ‘voice’ from which to somehow identify the person our child is communicating to. The person happily chatting with our child via the Weather Channel chat room about cumulonimbus clouds and the report the child is writing could just as easily be a 50 year old pedophile waiting for his chance to trap the child into divulging personal information about themselves and their location.
It is extremely important that we advocate to our school communities the hazards which exist for our children on the Internet. There are resources available to you that will expand on the signs of abuse and the steps to take in protecting your child from experiencing this unsuitable content on the Internet.
In the next addition, I’ll detail steps the parent can take in monitoring and helping to ensure that their child is not being exploited on the Internet.