Online predators

By Jonathan Stromberg

The Internet is just a haven for online predators. It offers them 2 big advantages: Firstly, it is completely anonymous, and secondly, it offers an unprecedented level of access to an endless supply of children and teenagers who are actively seeking to chat online. According to the Online victimization research carried out by NCMEC (2000), one in five children who use chat rooms have been approached over the Internet by pedophiles.

It is the easiest thing in the world to login to a chat site and pretend to be a teenager from the other side of the county; when in reality you are a a guy in his 40's from the same town.
Chatting with friends online - via services like MySpace and Bebo - is beginning to take over from watching TV as the main hobby of many young people. Much of the chat is happening in what are called 'community websites'. Unlike chat rooms, they are not open to everyone: each person has to be invited to join in.

In the course of a normal getting to know each conversation, it is then no more difficult to elicit everyday information, such as what school the child or teenager goes to, and where he or she goes to in the evenings.

Online predators come in different shapes and sizes, and have differing expectations from their online predatory experience. There are the more 'benign' online predators; who get their kicks simply from simply communicating on a normal level with children and teenagers, and who do not being sexual context into the conversations. This is not too much to worry about, other than its spooky factor.
Unfortunately, however, a much greater amount of online predators want to take the relationship onto a higher level. As a rule, this involves asking the child to take part in some kind of light sexual conversational flirtation. This can involve talking about some sexual issue in a roundabout way, without getting too direct. Often, online predators will move onto the next level if they have success eliciting such information. Now they start intensifying such conversation, and may even ask for pictures of the child of a sexual nature; in some state of undress for instance. Fortunately, this is the point (if they haven't already) that some children and teenagers become sufficiently wary so as to become more cautious with what information they share. Unfortunately, though, a lot of teenagers continue to play the game..

From a parents perspective, it may seem impossible that their child would enter into a virtual conversation of such nature with a stranger. This of course negates the fact that our children make very different interpretations to the same events as us, and what for us can seem like a cold clear fact that out well brought up children will understand, can by them be perceived as something blown of out proportion and not relevant in their case anyhow. Even if a teenager treats her parents words seriously, things can rapidly change late at night when the guy sending flirtatious messages is a 'handsome young lad from California.'

Recently, I spoke to a girl who uses chat sites (Lisa,age 14), who said the following: “It was drilled into me to be careful with who I chat with over the Internet, and I was sure that I would be able to stick to the online rules; it all seemed perfectly understandable and clear. But its so easy to get carried away with your emotions, and with the scent of something new and exciting. One day I found myself getting really involved with this guy I had met in a chat site a month earlier. He had sent me his photo and told me loads about his life, and suggested swapping flirtatious photos with each other. It is so easy to do that, that I agreed, and this carried on for a few days. Then my mother found out and banned me from using that chat site. Only afterwards I realized what I had done. I don't know who the guy was, but I can only hope that he was genuine. I can't possibly imagine that he was some kind of online predator, but, of-course, that's what everyone thinks.'

The issue that should be of most concern for parents is the number of online predators who will go as far as trying to arrange a meeting with the child that they have been in contact with. Such individuals often have considerable experience, and for them it is not difficult to coerce children into a meeting. According to the Youth Internet survey, 2004, in the period of that year, 1 in 33 children received aggressive sexual solicitation; in which the predator tried to fix a meeting with the child. As it can be seen, this is a real issue, and something that parents should certainly be aware of, and consider when establishing rules concerning how their child can use the Internet.

According to the same survey, it was shown that only 25% of children and adolescents who encountered a solicitation told their parents, and it can be very difficult for parents to control their child's use of such sites, as the majority of children and adolescents use occurs at home, right after school, when working parents aren't at home.

Software technology can help you. Its not the magic cure for all online predator ills, but, combined with education and discipline, it is a big step in the right direction towards protecting your children from the problems and dangers associated with Internet use and the computer as a whole..

There are different types of software that can assist you in different ways.

Internet filter and monitor programs can help you keep an eye on what your child is doing on the Internet, and enable you to establish filters so that certain chat sites cannot be accessed by your children, or so that certain words cannot be received or sent through chat sites. The best filtering programs are very flexible, which means that you can set your level of filtering which corresponds exactly with your needs.

Computer control programs enable you to control exactly when and how your computer is used. You can set the times when the computer can be used as whole, or each of its individual components, such as the Internet, certain programs, and the CD Rom. In this way you can restrict computer use to times when you are at home, so that you can keep an eye on how your child is using the computer. Such programs are also great for parents whose children spend too long on the computer.

Monitoring your child's Internet use. Parental control program This article was written by Jonathan Stromberg. I have been working in the field of online safety for 2 years, and am now the market researcher for SoftForYou. I have read a huge amount of material about online safety, and talked to many people about this issue. At you will find the Internet filter and monitoring program iProtectYou, and the computer control program Chronoger.
Developed and tested over many years, these programs have been highly rated by publications such as PC magazine (2004). They put you in control of your computer, and bring you significant assistance in protecting your children from the scourge of online predators.

Please goto the SoftForYou website and read the informative articles posted on the left side of the main page. Of particular interest to you will be the following articles that I have picked out: – This article is about a recent article (spring 2006) on the BBC website about online chat safety. - This article is about an real experiment that was done in which an older guy pretended to be a teenager, and develpoed online relationships with teenage girls. – A whole bunch of Internet safety tips for parents and children. – Here I give a few things for people to think about who may be less inclined to buy an Internet filter.

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