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    For a period of several years, one of the most entertaining, yet disturbing, programs on TV was Dateline NBC’s “To Catch A Predator”, hosted by Chris Hansen. The show featured police sting operations set up to lure and capture men who mistakenly thought they were meeting an underage child for sexual purposes.

    While there was a certain satisfaction in watching these idiots walk right into the waiting arms of the police, there was also a disturbing aspect to it, namely the fact that these people were so able to access children through an online presence. Sexual predators who prey on children are no longer the creepy looking guy hanging around the local playground, instead they are sophisticated internet operators, knowing where the young people hang out online, infiltrating and becoming one of them under the relative anonymity of the web, and waiting for the most opportune moment to make your child a victim of sexual abuse and violence.

    It therefore becomes imperative for parents to be vigilant about monitoring their kids’ online activities, reminding them that online you never truly know who you are talking to. We all have online friends, and we should also never assume that they are in fact who they say they are unless we have actual opportunity to meet them in person.

    Child predators are able to glean needed information from children online through the use of innocuous, seemingly unrelated questions. They can easily obtain full names, photographs, and addresses of their victims, as well as sending or swapping child pornography and other inappropriate material with amazing speed.

    Child predators also operate in relative isolation, and the internet has made it possible for them to interact with each other, sharing experiences, techniques, etc., offering a support group for the victimization of children, providing a measure of validation in their minds, for their behavior. Of course another hot topic of discussion is how to avoid law enforcement.

    The single most common means for a predator to contact a child is through chat rooms, instant messaging, or e-mail. 89% of all online contacts between predators and children occur in this manner, and 1 in 5 children between the ages of 10-17 report that they have been sexually solicited online. Considering that 25% of kids online participate in real time chat and 13 million use instant messaging, the risks of such children, either knowingly or unknowingly, interacting with a predator is alarming.

    The best defense for your children is to be solidly educated about the possible dangers. The internet should be treated like any other community, there are places that you go and places you want to avoid.

    Under no circumstance should they ever give out personal information over the internet, such as full name, address, phone number, passwords, parents’ names, or the names of any clubs or activities that they are involved with.

    Chat rooms should be completely off limits. Chat rooms are the single most popular and preferred area of stalking for online predators.

    Limit Instant Messaging to your child’s friends and immediate family, and know who is on your child’s IM list at any given time. Half of teens ages 13-18 often communicate through the Internet with someone they have not met in person (Polly Klaus Foundation, December 21, 2005).

    Placed computers in your home where all activity can be monitored and supervised. If your child has a webcam, make sure it is in a public area of your house.

    Know your child’s online activities, and learn how to come along behind them and check the computer history for a list of websites they have visited. Other programs can be installed to monitor and/or restrict certain activities.

    Know all relevant passwords. We have the passwords to our kids’ Facebook and e-mail accounts, and they know that is not something they are guaranteed.

    Lay down certain ground rules regarding your child’s internet use not only at home, but at school or if visiting with friends. You can also spend time online with your child and work towards developing an atmosphere of trust regarding computer usage and online activities.

    Monitor the amount of time your child spends on the computer. Too much time is not healthy. Remind them that Internet usage is a privilege, not a right. Do not allow them to have any online profiles containing personally identifiable information.

    Above all, instruct your child to never, under any circumstances, agree or arrange a face-to-face meeting with someone they have met online.

    It is a new millennium, and parenting must now extend into cyberspace. Know your enemy, and their tactics, and take the appropriate steps to protect your children.

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