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What a Parent Must Do to Stop Online Predators

by Alexandra Gamanenko

To monitor or not to monitor kids online -- that's a question millions of parents face. On the one hand, software for monitoring kids' online behavior is a relief for ever-busy Moms and Dads. On the other hand, parents should be very careful when relying on technology in such a delicate matter as parental control.
Teens can freely access the Internet from computers at school, at their friends' homes and in public places such as libraries and even from cell phones and video game consoles. Internet is everywhere, that is why kids and teenagers (and their parents, too) should be well aware of its dangers to avoid them.

Here are some figures from the telephone survey made by the Pew Internet and American Life Project:

65% of all parents and 64% of all teens say that teens do things online that they wouldn't want their parents to know about.

These "things" usually means visiting sites parents find "questionable" or "inappropriate", for example, so-called adult content. And, of course, chatting online.

What kids say in chat rooms, whom they communicate with and what they post on web logs and other public Internet places can get them into much more serious trouble than just viewing porn.

81% of parents of online teens say that teens aren't careful enough when giving out information about themselves online and 79% of online teens agree with this.

Sometimes teenagers post online their first and last names, postal addresses, phone numbers, pictures and give lots of personal information about themselves. It enables a predator easily identify and find this teen.

Unfortunately, sex predators teem in cyberspace. Sometimes they immediately start sexually explicit conversations with children. If a kid or a teen is forewarned and taught to end such a conversation immediately, he or she is relatively safe, except for moral damage from such a talk.

But there are others. They gradually allure their future victims by attention, affection, kindness, and even gifts. These individuals usually devote much time, money, and energy to this process. They listen to childrenand pretend to empathize with their problems. They even are aware of the latest music, hobbies, and interests of children. Some time later this person may succeed in arranging a face-to-face meeting with the kid -- you can guess what for.

Such crimes are on the rise, so there are now even special units where law enforcement officers pose as children in chat rooms to lure predators into a trap.

The problem is so serious that Federal Bureau of Investigation had to launch Crimes Against Children (CAC) Program in 1997. So every parent should read and memorize tips from "A Parent's Guide to Internet Safety"

There are rules any teen should learn by heart: don't believe everything they are told on-line, never reveal your name, age, birthday, graduation year, nickname or any other personal information while chatting.

Parents should talk to their children about online dangers. Moms and Dads must encourage their sons and daughters tell them about their online acquaintances, without fear of being scolded of punished.

But should parents use monitoring software? It's a difficult question. Software for parental control is a useful tool, only if applied right.

My opinion is that monitoring software is "strong medicine". Like any medicine, it has its own side effects that can be worse than the disease. Any medicine, if overused, can do harm. Computer monitoring is the last resort, when all the other means are exhausted. Don't do it just because you think you should.

Using monitoring software will be appropriate if you feel you are losing control of the situation, or have lost it already.

For example, your teenage son or daughter seems to be completely withdrawn from family.

You don't know his/her friends well enough--maybe you even haven't seen them and doubt whether they exist at all. You have no idea whom he/she is chatting with. Your teenager receives phone calls from people you don't know or is making long-distance calls to numbers you don't recognize.
Your son or daughter gets letters, gifts or packages from people you haven't heard about.

Every day he/she spends hours on the computer, especially at night. when you enter the room he/she changes the screen. Maybe you found pornography on your child's computer. If your child uses an online account that belongs to someone else, you also should be alarmed.

Don't keep the computer in your child's bedroom. In fact, nearly three-quarters of home computers are located in a place like living room, according to the survey. A wise thing to do. If your child uses the Internet in a living room, it is easier to watch what he or she is doing online.

And, of course, there is a great variety of monitoring software products. Their purposes may vary from simply recording the time the computer is on/off to logging every keystroke your kid makes. Use one of them if you are sure it is absolutely necessary. But remember that your kid might be more technically savvy than you. Lots of them can erase their traces.

At any case, you must let your kid know you care for his or her safety -- both offline and online.

About the Author

Alexandra Gamanenko currently works at Raytown Corporation, LLC -- an independent monitoring and anti-monitoring software developing company that provides various solutions for information security. Learn more -- visit the company's website