Today’s world is full of technology. As a parent, you may be feeling like your children live on an alternate planet, speaking their own language. Every time you turn on the television, there are advertisements for the latest cell phones, computers, hand-helds, and more. These personal technology devices can provide positive information and connection to a greater community. They can even be convenient ways for your teens to keep in touch with you if their plans or schedules change, but there is a dark side. The Internet and other personal technology devices can open a world of danger for children and put them at great risk for sexual solicitation.
One in seven children are sexually solicited online each year, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (www.ncmec.org). Online sexual solicitation is defined as “unprovoked, uninvited, or unwanted requests to engage in sexual activities, engage in sexually explicit conversations, or give personal sexual information.” The awareness surrounding sexual solicitation via the Internet has increased dramatically in the past couple of years, due to the alarming number of children being targeted and victimized.
Teens are very creative when it comes to using their cell phones and other wireless devices. Instead of passing notes in class, they send text messages. Additionally, they can access the Internet from their phones and download pictures, videos and music. Wireless devices are an instant and constant source of information, from fi nding the latest party to contacting the closest drug dealer. They can also receive messages from anyone, friend or not, as long as the other person has the cell phone number.
Similarly, teens use the Internet as one of their primary methods of communicating with friends. Websites like myspace.com, friendster.com, facebook.com, blogspot.com, etc., and messaging services like AOL, Yahoo or MSN Instant Messenger, allow teens to post pictures of themselves, set up personal websites, post blogs, and chat live with friends. Unfortunately, these sites also allow for predators to easily seek out potential victims, as they can search for users by location, age, etc., and pretend to be the child’s peer.
The Internet is still the biggest tool that predators are using to target children, but cell phones, and hand-held computers are among the new tools that they are using to keep ahead of the game. Many cell phones now come equipped with the ability to take pictures and video, making it very easy for predators to transmit pornographic images. Children are being photographed and recorded without their knowledge or consent and these images are making their way onto the Internet and via wireless networks. You may have heard or seen news stories of predators using cell phones to take pictures underneath girls’ skirts,
in locker rooms, etc.
Fortunately, there is a lot you can do as a parent to keep your children safe. The single most important thing you can do is: EDUCATE YOURSELF. The following are some tips that you can follow to help keep your children safe from online predators.