The behavior of your child is the main indicator of the seriousness of any situation. This determines whether you need to report the situation or not. Parents need to supervise all online activities just as you do with everyday activities including text messaging, social gathering locations, email, blogs, online “friends", online neighborhoods, websites visited, any electronic communications and video game interactions among players. Parents need to be aware of the subtle changes in their child’s behavior and remember that electronic communications for most children aren’t just tools to accomplish tasks. Electronic communications are most children’s lifelines to their world. They typically are connected 24 hours a day 7 days a week. When the child becomes the target of ridicule or scandal, disastrous results can happen.
Flaming is the online response of the moment. Any communication tool can be used to flame – text messaging, instant messaging, chat rooms or blogs. It isn’t the continual abuse or ridicule over a period of time. Flaming is more like someone losing their temper right now and then a little while later things are calm. You can block the flamer’s email address, phone number or the username in the instant messaging program if needed. Most times this remedies the situation and law enforcement doesn’t need to be involved. When the flaming becomes more severe or the number of flaming incidents dramatically increases, then you probably should contact law enforcement.
Checking your child’s phone logs, email, text messages, instant messages, chat room conversations, blogs and websites visited are a part of parental responsibility just as knowing with whom, where and for how long your child is physically going somewhere. When your child is communicating with an adult online you don’t know and you don’t approve of the content or the “feel" of the communications, contact law enforcement. Since there isn’t a way to be one hundred percent sure that the online “friend" is whom they claim to be, it is better to be safe than sorry and report the adult to law enforcement. It only takes one incident to compromise personal safety.
Besides watching for changes in your child’s behavior, parents need to periodically check for themselves electronic devices used by the child for frequent threatening emails and instant messages, pictures and text seemingly sent from or posted by your child that in reality are sent or posted by someone else, someone pretending to be your child online, someone posting inappropriate text and pictures about your child specifically to ridicule, harass or humiliate your child, posting personal information about your child such as their name, address, phone number, school or characteristics, or distributing infectors and malicious code while impersonating your child online. These are situations that do require law enforcement.
Most children confide in neighborhood friends when an online problem occurs. So, it is very important to keep the lines of communication open between yourself and your child. Remember that when a potentially compromising online situation happens it most likely isn’t the fault of your child. Let your child know that their electronic lifelines won’t be forbidden and that you will be supportive. Should you need to contact law enforcement, don’t use any software products that clean the computer’s hard drive. These products will destroy any evidence your computer has. Stay safe and enjoy the wonderful tool of the internet.