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The Online Neighborhood
The greatest threat to your children is the people they meet online and in the neighborhood. Child predators are more prevalent than most parents want to admit. Predators depend on your child’s natural curiosity, innocence, and trusting nature. The internet provides an effective way to make the first contact with your child. The predator is no longer restricted to only children in one neighborhood in one location at one time.
On the internet, they usually don’t need to worry about the person accompanying the child or the person observing “suspicious behavior" from the next aisle or down the street. The predator doesn’t need to worry about an observer or camera describing their physical appearance. They can describe themselves online as any age, race or build that suits their purpose at the time. They can lure your child to meet at a location near your house. Pre-teens and teenagers are especially vulnerable to child predators online. Remember that the predator can look or sound like anyone (a family member, friend, a respectable community member), and be of any age, race, nationality, intelligence, economic status, profession or occupation.
How Predators Find Children
Predators try to contact children any way they can. The initial contact is usually through conversations. The conversations can be through whatever form is available or convenient. Online conversations can happen in chat rooms at websites or video games, instant messaging, email, discussion boards or forums. Some teenagers use peer-support online forums to handle problems. These forums can be very helpful but not so when predators are there searching for prey.
The predator will typically get to know your child, develop a friendship, sympathize with their problems, share their interests and find your child’s unique vulnerability to lure your child away from your safe home. Part of the seduction by predators is through their undivided attention, apparent kindness or affection and sometimes gifts. Some predators immediately introduce sexually explicit conversation and pictures. This can develop quickly into harassment or stalking. Or the predator can be evaluating your child for a future face-to-face encounter. It could be your child is always willing to help someone in trouble or perhaps your child thinks home life could be better somewhere else. Child predators do not care if their prey (your child) is well adjusted, maladjusted, happy, or unhappy. Every person has a trait that under particular circumstances, manipulated by the predator, can be exploited to cause the person or child to leave their secure surroundings just for a few minutes. That is all it takes.
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What Parents Should Know
If this seems alarming, it should. Parents need to be awakened to potential dangers of the internet. Parents need to know how easily a bad person can be in their home while their child is in plain sight, physically safe in their home. Most parents do not believe anything like this could happen to their child. In reality, every child is vulnerable to predators just as every internet user is vulnerable to phishing scams or computer infectors.
Who is the Most Vulnerable?
Pre-teens are the most vulnerable to child predators. This is the age group that is most likely to take risks online without fully understanding the possible consequences. Children of this age usually believe they can’t be identified when they are not using their real name. They are typically discovering their sexuality and trying to separate themselves from parental control.
Where are Children Accessing the Internet?
Parents also need to know about internet supervision in the homes of their children’s friends. Parents, of course, can’t change the amount or the quality of supervision in another home but they can be aware of how much and what kind of supervision is being given their child at another home, a library, an internet café, school, or at the mall with a laptop computer available from a friend or “kind" person.
Parents can’t effectively forbid their children from using computers. If the child wants to use it badly enough, they will find a way. Many of our schools now require the use of a computer to complete homework and research away from school. For teenagers and pre-teens the internet is not just another tool. It is their lifeline to their world. Computers and the internet are not going away. The internet is another area of your child’s life that demands your constant personal supervision.
Most people we meet online are decent persons. They are people you would meet in any situation in the everyday world. People use aliases online through different user names. One person can have different online identities for friends, business associates, and online games. Any person with honorable or bad intentions can pretend to be the personality they choose to be online. This can help shy persons develop social skills. This can also help child predators deceive children.
What to Do When Encountering an Online Predator
When an internet problem happens, the rule is to “contact an authority." If your young child is made to feel uncomfortable or someone asks them to do something they know you would not like or know it is wrong, the authority they go to is you or the nearest adult. If there is a threat to anyone’s personal safety (yours or your child’s), immediately call Emergency Services (911 in the USA). If there is an online problem related to your child’s well being, contact your local police and file a complaint with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in your country.
If after all your precautions and preventions your child does meet an online predator, don’t blame your child. Chances are they did take precautions and followed your instructions and rules. The encounter is not the fault of your child. It is important your child knows they will not be blamed for something for which they most likely have no idea how it developed or happened. Children need to know that parents trust them and will not blame or punish them for something that was not in their control. They need to know you will not restrict usage of their lifelines to their world and friends. Blaming your child will probably make them think twice before telling you about an incident the next time. Remind them all inappropriate or bad situations can’t be avoided but you are there if something should happen. Explain that adults are no exception to being duped. The only difference is that adults usually have more experience recognizing potentially personal compromising situations. Remind them not to respond to and immediately tell you about any suggestive, demeaning, or threatening interactions.
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Online Predators (Part 1 of 2)
This series of 2 articles provides the basics of recognizing and avoiding online predators. All parents should be aware of tactics used by child predators. This series provides the basics for parents.