Parents, you have a new job at hand. A critical job! And that’s to keep your kids safe online.
Protecting your kids from the real world is not enough anymore. The online world is bigger, meaner, and scarier. And protecting your kids from all online dangers, be it predators, threats like cyberbullying, pornography or child trafficking, is becoming more and more challenging everyday.
Like in the real world, in the cyber world there are the good guys and the bad guys. Your job is to fend off the bad and educate your child to fend for themselves at the same time. SaferNet, a wifi security software committed to a "SaferNet" for kids, will be an asset in this endeavor. Together, we can become the “Guardians of the Web” for our children and help them make the best use of the online galaxy.
Online Threats: A Reality or an Overhyped Scare?
Cyberbullying: Danger is Real
Ryan Halligan was a sweet, gentle 13-year-old who enjoyed swimming, skateboarding, camping, and playing video games. He began to be bullied from 5th grade onwards which continued when he went to middle school. His concerned parents did their best to lift Ryan’s spirits but did not report the matter to school on Ryan’s repeated requests (a mistake on their part they realized too late).
Things got better for a while and Ryan was soon spending a lot of time with friends online on his AOL IM account. It was during a friendly chat that Ryan shared a personal, embarrassing incident with one of his friends. The friend circulated this online and Ryan became once again a victim of bullying – this time on a larger scale. Unable to bear the taunts and the humiliation, Ryan committed suicide on October 7, 2003.
Could this have been prevented? Ryan’s parents had been a great moral support. They had put all relevant technological guidelines in place, in particular - No IMing/chatting with strangers, no sharing personal information and pictures with strangers and no secret passwords. How could have parents known that their child’s friends would drive him to take this extreme step! In hindsight, his father shares a piece of wisdom on a website dedicated to Ryan, that could possibly guide other parents:
“I realized that technology was being utilized as weapons far more effective and reaching than the simple ones we had as kids. Passing handwritten notes or a "slam" book has since been replaced with online tools such as IM, websites, blogs, social media, anonymous posting applications, smart phones, etc. The list keeps growing with the invention of every new gadget and application.”
It is possible that Ryan might not have taken that unfortunate step if bullying had only been restricted to the real world. But this is wishful thinking. We can’t go back in time and make the online world disappear. But as parents, we can teach one thing to our children – good “Digital Citizenship”.
Key Lesson for Parents - Involve School in Your Dialogue:
Ryan’s father wishes he had not succumbed to Ryan’s requests and instead brought the matter to the notice of his teachers and school administration. He also wishes he had investigated why his son did not trust his school administration in the first place.
Kids might not be sharing all things that happen with them in school with you. If you notice your kids feeling depressed, get in touch with teachers, your kids’ friends, and the school administration.
Key Lesson for All - Prevention Through Education:
A child safe internet is the responsibility of all. As Ryan’s father aptly describes the solution to this difficult problem:
“For too long, we have let kids and adults bully others as a rite of passage into adulthood… Like so many parents of our generation, we thought this would just be a phase, a part of growing up. But accountability and responsibility should be shared by others too - bullies, bystanders and their parents along with school administration and staff. Prevention through education should have always been a part of the curriculum. And it should have started at pre-K.”
Sex Trafficking - Social Media the New Recruiting Tool
A teenage girl was contacted by a “modeling agent” on MySpace.com in the fall of 2008. Promising he could make her a “star” he gave her a bus ticket from Florida to Las Vegas, Nevada. The girl was groomed and lured into the world of erotic services. The Los Angeles police found, through an investigation, the real age of the girl and caught her recruiter named Dwayne Lawson. In June 2010, Lawson was sentenced to 210 months in federal prison.
Such cases send a shiver down the spine. Most child victims of sex trafficking are often runaways, troubled, and homeless youth. Nonetheless, teens desiring to pursue the world of modeling become easy targets of such child predators.
Lesson for Parents – Cyber Education is Must
Internet safety for children begins at home. Parents or guardians must explain to kids why talking to strangers or sharing personal information such as name, address, and phone number can be dangerous. Even harmless images can be doctored and used by bad elements to further their nefarious intentions. Since you can’t be sitting on their head all the time, talk to your kids in detail about these matters. “Don’t do this, don’t do that” approach might backfire. It is imperative that they understand “why” they are not supposed to do that and “what” can happen if they do. Schools are doing their bit in this regard; you pitch in too. Your words carry more weight.
Sextortion – The New Blackmail Spiraling Out of Control
Amanda Todd was like every other 15-year-old teenage girl. She wanted to make new friends online. The friendly chats went a bit further when one of her friends asked her to show her breasts on camera. This is when Amanda made that stupid mistake – complying to the request of an “online friend” she had never met in person.
Not long after, she began to be blackmailed by that person demanding more revealing images of herself and a “performance” lest her image be circulated amongst friends and family. The threats escalated and when demands were not met, the image was circulated all over the web. A never-ending experience of taunts, humiliation, and cyber bullying culminated in Amanda being unable to bear the pressure and eventually committing suicide.
As sharing sexts become common among teens, cases of sextortion (forcing someone to do sexual favors by threatening to leak naked pictures of the victim online) and blackmailing for money are spiraling out of control. The FBI admits that the crime has reached unprecedented levels and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep up with the cases.
Sextortion is not just limited to girls as boys are increasingly becoming the targets of this. A whole crime syndicate in Philippines targeted boys across the world by using social media. They then entice them to use video calls to engage in cybersex. Using pre-recorded videos of girls undressing, boys are enticed to do the same. Unsuspecting boys are then recorded and blackmailed for money.
All victims, be it boys or girls, give in to the demands of the predator (be it giving money or meeting his perverted desires) in the hope that the blackmailer won’t circulate their images or videos online. And all are too embarrassed to share the problem with parents and approach the police making it more difficult to catch the criminals.
Lesson for Parents: Win a Child’s Trust
Children are not speaking up. Embarrassment and fear of punishment is holding them back. As kids, they can’t always be trusted to make the right decisions. One mistake and they tend to cover up by making more. All this time they are bottling up shame and fear inside.
One FBI special agent advices parents to talk to their children and let them know if they reach out to you.Parents of sextortion victims wish that their kids had come to them earlier and told them the truth before it got so big. Talk to your kids like a friend and assure them that you stand with them, no matter what.
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