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There are a number of incidactions you can see as a parent that can indicate if your child has been affected by an online predator. You can watch for changes in your child’s behavior, attitudes and routines. It is possible your child may be the target of an online predator if:
- Your child’s behavior changes. Children can become depressed, excitable, elated or withdrawn when they are criticized, embarrassed, ridiculed or after an illicit sexual encounter. Some children can become elated when they believe their secret friend understands everything they are feeling.
- Your child or teen spends a great deal of time online.Most children who are victims of online predators spend a lot of time online, particularly in chat rooms, especially at night or at unusual hours for them.
- Your child is vague when you ask them what they are doing online.
- Your child hides, changes or closes the webpage or shuts off the monitor when you are in viewing distance or enter the room.
- There is a webcam attached to your child’s computer that you did not buy or give someone else permission to buy for them.
- You find pornography on the family computer. Predators often use pornography to sexually victimize children - supplying it to open sexual discussions with potential victims. Predators may use child pornography to convince a child that adults having sex with children are "normal." You should be aware that your child might hide pornographic files on removable media (if they know how), especially if other family members use the computer.
- Your child or teen:
- Receives phone calls from people you don't know
- Makes calls (sometimes long distance) to numbers you don't recognize at unusual times for your household.
- Your child is calling strangers. Online predators can try to lure children to engage in phone or online sex or try to set up a real-world meeting. If children hesitate to provide their home phone number, the predator will provide theirs and tell the child to call collect. Then, with Caller ID, the predator can find their real name, home address and home phone number.
- Your child or teen receives mail, gifts or packages from someone you don't know. It is common for offenders to send letters, photographs and gifts to potential victims.
- Your child is using an internet access account you didn’t originate.
- Your younger child seems to have ideas that are out of character and beyond the comprehension of their age from their imaginary friend. Be sure this imaginary friend is imaginary and not someone they met online.
Parents must remember that the internet is not just entertainment or a tool to your children. It is their lifeline to their world. Internet and electronic communication devices such as mobile phones, camera phones, iPods, PDAs, online video games, etc are a vital part of your child's life. Know about their activities, with whom they are spending time, where they go, and how much time is spent at particular locations.
Parents have the responsibility of maintaining an open line of communication with teenagers and children. As the parent, it is your responsibility to enforce the agreement you and your child or teenager make based on trust, mutual understanding, and limits of privacy and freedom about internet usage, permissions, restrictions and limitations.
Has Your Child Been Affected by an Online Predator? (Part 2 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.