While the Internet provides children with an opportunity to learn about the world, it has also become a place where sexual predators prey on children. Approximately 1 in 5 children online is sexually solicited but less than 10 percent of sexual solicitations are reported to authorities. Reports to the Maine Computer Crimes Task Force of Internet child exploitation have increased 173% over the last two years.
Maranacook Area Schools was chosen as a pilot site to explore the exciting new web-based program Netsmartz (www.netsmartz.org). This program was developed by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children to help students protect themselves on the internet, and to help parents learn more about safety on the internet. We use this program in grades 3-12 and have also taught parents about it during three different parent evening sessions. The students have found this site to be interesting, thought provoking, and age appropriate. The Netsmartz online movies are often told in the teenage voice which is appealing to the student. The Netsmartz site has wonderful resources for young children, teens, parents, and teachers. We encourage parents, educators, and students to visit this site for more information–www.Netsmartz.org.
Social Networking sites have also become very popular with teens and young adults. These sites offer users the chance to meet others in the world and share information in their profiles, display photos and movies, send email, add comments, as well as, search for new “friends”. Some of the most popular networking sites are Facebook, Friendster, Live Journal with the most popular being Myspace.com which presently has over 110 million users worldwide. This type of communication is a real revolution in the way people connect. It is best for parents and students to learn how to be safe on these sites since they have become the main place that predators are now finding their prey.
Here are some tips we have compiled for parents:
• Keep the computer in the family room or another open area of your home and limit the time children are on computers.
• Be aware of any other computers your child may be using.
• Know who children are exchanging E-mail or chatting with. Ask children to identify online screen names (on their “buddy list”) to ensure they are chatting only with people they know.
• Children should let their parents know if they have been victim of “cyber- bullying” which could include inappropriate text messages, instant messages or blogs.
• Internet accounts should be in the parent’s name with parents having the primary screenname, controlling passwords, and using blocking and/or filtering devices.
• Teens need to be aware of the fact that anyone can search their Social Networking sites (MySpace.com or Facebook) and read their profiles, save their photos and share them with others.
• Talk to children about what personal information is and why you should never give it to people online.
• Children should not complete a profile and children’s screennames should be nondescript so as not to identify that the user is a child or where they live.
• Talk to them about never meeting in person with anyone they first “met” online.
• Monitor phone bills, credit cards, mail and other contacts for evidence of children communicating with strangers.
• Encourage children to discuss contacts on the Internet that make them uncomfortable; and when they do, parents should remain calm in order not to discourage future discussions. 1 in 5 children ages 10-17 received a sexual solicitation over the Internet in the last year. Talk to children about not responding to offensive or dangerous E-mail, chat, or other communications. Do not delete the offensive or dangerous E-mail; turn off the monitor. Report any such communication to local law enforcement.