The Internet Predator

Pop quiz: Where would your child be safer?

a) In a dark alley in a questionable part of town late at night. b) At home in front of the family computer in the middle of the day.

The logical answer seems to be b, but there’s a strong possibility that b is just as dangerous a place as a. In fact, it may be more dangerous. There might be a real danger in that dark alley but one thing is for certain, when your child goes on the Internet there most definitely are sexual predators waiting for them.

Our perception of the pedophile hiding in a dark alley may be the sinister-looking old man in a greasy trench coat. The Internet predator, on the other hand, isn’t easy to spot. The person could literally be anyone. Pedophiles come from very diverse backgrounds such as a department store Santa, a nuclear engineer, a NASA rocket scientist, a teacher, a pediatric neurosurgeon, a firefighter, a prosecutor, a high school hockey coach, a truck driver.

The predators who stalk the Internet pose as teens and make contact with their intended victims through email, instant messaging, and chat rooms. The girl that your daughter is chatting online with may in reality be a 30-year-old man. The Internet predator is adept at learning personal information about your child through casual contacts. What seems like an innocent conversation about the things they have in common could leave the pedophile with enough information to make physical contact with your son or daughter. He may have discovered what town you live in, where your child attends school, and the time and place of your child’s next soccer game.

Some predators cultivate relationships with children. They befriend them, buy them gifts, win their trust. All of this is done with a payoff in mind. Their goal is to get to a point where they can set up a physical meeting with your child.

The Internet can be a great place, but it’s important to recognize that it can be a dangerous place as well. Acknowledging that fact is a great first step. Here are some additional tips that should help keep the danger to a minimum:

  • Limit our child’s use of all electronic media (including computers) to no more than one or two hours per day.
  • Keep your computer in a public part of the house and supervise all Internet use.
  • Learn about your computer and the web sites your child visits. It’s not unusual for children to know more about the computer and surfing the Internet than their parents.
  • Impress on your children how important it is that they do not give out personal information. The obvious would be addresses, phone/cell numbers, and pictures. Even information like the school they attend could be enough for an Internet predator to find them.
  • Make sure your children know to come to you if they encounter messages that upset them.
  • Call the authorities if something seems suspicious.

Now let’s take that pop quiz again. Where would your child be safer?

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