Monday, March 1, 2010

Culture Challenge of the Week: Predators

It used to be that a parent’s greatest worry was the guy in the trench coat lurking on the edge of the school playground. Now, thanks to the Internet, that creep often hangs out with your son in his bedroom.

Pedophiles prowl wherever children go, and cyberspace is their newest playground. Strangers anonymously scan the Internet and quietly spy in chat-room conversations in search of prey. They cunningly study how to masquerade as “friends” to your children and know just how to manipulate their emotions.

Recent surveys show that 69 percent of teens who are online receive personal messages from people they don’t know. Fifty percent of teens who enter chat rooms say they have shared personal information with strangers, including their phone numbers, addresses and where they go to school. And 73 percent of sexual solicitation online happens while youths are using their home computers. In the worst cases, the cyberstalkers lure kids to secret meetings, where they are sexually abused and even killed. According to the Center for Missing and Exploited Children, two out of every five missing teens ages 15 to 17 are abducted in connection with Internet activity.

How to Protect your family from cyberstalkers

Parents, you are the first line of defense. With the proliferation of online pornography and perverts seeking their next victim in cyberspace, the job of protecting your kids in the vast Internet can seem overwhelming.

Thankfully, the Internet Safety 101 comprehensive DVD teaching series can help.

Developed by the Enough is Enough organization, Internet Safety 101 equips parents with both technical and nontechnical tips. Their “Rules ‘N Tools” enables children and families to enjoy all the benefits and wonders of the Internet while teaching children how to avoid danger and make wise choices.

There are a few basic steps you should take right now to protect your child — before he makes another keystroke.

• Secure a reliable Internet filter.

• Move the computer into a public space in your home.

• Tell your child about the dangers and remind her to never talk to strangers.

• Order Internet Safety 101 (www.InternetSafety101).

As I mentioned in this column last week, it is my privilege to serve as a pro-bono member of the Enough is Enough advisory board. The organization’s president, Donna Rice Hughes, has committed some 15 years of her life fighting pornography and sexual predators, studying Internet usage and technologies and assembling the most effective ways to protect your children in cyberspace. It took three intense years to develop, produce and pilot Internet Safety 101. The program includes parental control tutorials, cybersecurity resources, compelling video vignettes from law enforcement, victims’ clinicians and a frightening interview with a convicted sex offender.

The Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention supports efforts to protect your kids through Enough is Enough and Internet Safety 101. Shouldn’t you?

Rebecca Hagelin can be reached at

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