The internet and social media are wonderful tools. The downside, however, is that the web can also be used against us. The mass sharing of information allows predators of all kinds to take advantage of the innocent person on the other end of the computer. We consider children as the most vulnerable among us but anyone can be a target of nefarious activity.
Online sexual predators may be anyone. The web allows anonymity and does not prevent adults from lying about their age or intentions.
Online sexual solicitation as defined by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children is "unprevoked, uninvited, or unwanted requests to engage in sexual activities, engage in sexually explicit conversations, or give personal sexual information".
It is critical to educate your children and teach them how to better protect themselves. The best way to help protect them is by being engaged. Talk to them about their computer activities and red flags to watch for.
Tips for Online Usage
Set rules and guidelines
Know who communicates with your children
Learn how to use the web yourself
Install filters or blocks
Place the computer in a common room where the activities are more easily monitored
Discuss the pros and cons of surfing the web with regards to appropriate decision making while online
Limit (IM) instant messaging to chatting with people they know by face and are approved by you
Make sure they do not accept chats with unknown people
Caution your children about the content posted
Remind them that people are not always who they say they are
Limit the information provided on the web
Do not give out personal information such as name, mailing address or email address without permission
Frequently stress the fact it is not safe to meet someone face to face that they meet online
Be aware of changes in your child's behavior or attitude
Remain calm and compassionate if your children share situations they have encountered online. Use the situation as a teaching opportunity
Report any disturbing incidents by giving the screen name or e-mail address and any other known information to your internet service provider, and law enforcement