Crime Time

Justice for all.

Kid Safety: What Lurks Online?

Kids hold the key to their own safety.

“Out of the mouths of babes” is an expression we all use; after all, we know there is tremendous value in what kids have to say. We never cease to be amazed by how witty, observant or accurate a child can be.  I am constantly amazed about how many wonderful, talented, and bright kids are out there, and I’m impressed by their ability to articulate, present, and observe the issues that plague our society.

But perhaps what amazes me more is how infrequently adults use that special “intel.” If we just gave our kids a space and place, we could use their talents to help them shine while they educate us about how to protect them.

No, you didn’t read incorrectly.  Kids have many of the keys to their own safety and they simply need smart adults who recognize that and embrace it to get the results. To illustrate my point, let’s look at parents’ concerns about internet safety.

Why are parents worried?   They are worried because they have no clue about what is “out there in the big bad world of the internet.”  Parents prefer to think that if they forbid visits to social networking sites like Facebook or Myspace, it will solve everything. 

Wrong!

But where to begin?  The computer is daunting, high tech, and can seem too time- consuming to learn.  We have all said it, but if there ever was a time to invest in a small bit of information, now is the time.  It is also the time to accept the fact that the Internet is here to stay. It’s a resource for all of us that, if used effectively, can work to parents’ advantage. It can certainly be a way to connect more with your child and be more aware of things that he or she is doing.  

Our high-tech society breeds high-tech kids who know more about the inner workings of the computer than any parent would like to admit.  As computer savvy as each generation gets, there is always an up-and-coming generation that knows more than their parents.   And, with the introduction of any new medium, there is a lack of understanding the fundamentals of how it works, which naturally leads to distress and panic.  The media, politics, and society all capitalize on this by instilling hysteria and panic by publicizing  the unknown dangers.  Some people may recall similar waves of the teenage danger and promiscuity with the widespread use of motor vehicles, the television, women in college, cable television and more recently cellular phones. 

Most people are familiar with the dangers of the internet and its related crimes:  sexual exploitation of children, pornography, kidnappings, rapes, murders.   But parents stop short of learning why the internet is a medium of choice for society’s most despicable human beings. 

     Predators are successful on the internet because they provide something that parents are remiss at giving—their undivided attention.  Predators are patient as they communicate with their target.  They are complimentary, interested in their victim’s life, and unconditional in their support. 

Isn’t this just what every teenager needs during the most confusing times of their lives—someone who listens compassionately, attentively, without passing judgment.  These people educate themselves about children’s likes, dislikes, and the latest trends and lingo.  They demonstrate interest by not multi-tasking. 

After the predator earns his victim’s initial trust, he will disclose that he is a little older than previously disclosed.  Despite the lie, teenagers are likely to feel flattered and find it intriguing that they have evoked the interest of an older, more knowledgeable, sophisticated person.   

Just as abstinence is the only 100% effective birth control method, children need to be trained that refusing to respond to an unknown email, text, instant message is the only 100 % effective method to keep predators away.   If a child simply doesn’t respond to someone they don’t know, then the fear of the “unknown” is gone.  The only way a perpetrator can make your child a victim is if the child responds. 

If your child clicks “delete,” the potential perpetrator will simply move on to the thousands of other potential prey on in cyberspace.  So relax, parents--the answer to internet safety is easy.  The real problem is with the strangers we know!
 
Since kids know more about the internet than we ever will, why don’t we use this opportunity to have kids teach us.  Have them tell YOU how to use Facebook, Myspace, You Tube, etc.  Let them show you how to upload pictures (even if you already know how) so that while you learn you can pass on helpful safety tips in a natural environment

Ask how to add a friend to a website so you can begin a discussion of who should be accepted and who shouldn’t.  Perhaps in the natural course of your internet lesson, your child will tell you what you really should be worried about ---the answer is on your children’s friends’, page not theirs….

But that’s an article for another day.

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Robin Sax is a former deputy district attorney for Los Angeles County who specialized in child sexual assault cases. She is the author of Predators and Child Molesters.

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