Online crimes against children are on the rise. Research has shown that one out of every five children online is susceptible to being approached by an individual attempting to solicit sex. These predators, predominately male, are likely to frequent unmonitored chat rooms, dating websites, and online friends sites like MySpace and HI5 in order to meet their potential victims. He can pose as anyone of any age or sex, often sending fake photos of himself. Once he gains your child’s confidence, he may ask for personal information, an exchange of photos or try to set up a face-to-face meeting. Many predators even feel comfortable sending children pornography after a friendship has developed. There are many missing children each year that are a result of meeting their online predators – a parent’s worse fear come true!
What can you do to protect children from falling victim to online dangers? The best way is to educate both yourself and your child on Internet child safety. Know the danger signs. Does your child hide the screen quickly when you walk in? Do they spend hours and hours online chatting? Have they become moody and withdrawn from the family? There are several ways you can protect your child from online threats. Open the door of communication with your child. Don’t be afraid to ask who they are talking to or what they are doing when they spend a large amount of time online. If they seem annoyed by your questions, calmly explain that there are predators out there looking for children to converse with and you are only concerned with their safety. Ask them to show you their favorite sites and take time to see if they are age appropriate. You can also place the computer in a community room, such as a den or living room. If a predator thinks a parent is nearby, he is less likely to communicate with a teen. If someone is continually harassing your child online, you can contact your Internet provider to see what protection they can offer.
If you see an email in which someone has sexually solicited your child or sent them child pornography, contact the FBI or local police immediately.