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Protecting kids on the internet

THE potential danger for children using the Internet is highlighted yet again in the result s of a recently published survey. ESET Ireland, an online scanning provider, has revealed that up to 73% of Irish children are left unsupervised online.

So what can be doneto protect kids against online predators and solicitation? In 82% of online sex crimes against minors, the offender used the victim’s social networking site to gain information about the victim’s likes and dislikes. Sixty-five per cent of online sex offenders used the victim’s social networking site to gain home and school information about the victim

Predators may seek out children who are participating in attention-seeking behaviours as a way of finding connections with others. Sadly, these kids seeking connection are generally the ones least apt to have a concerned adult that they will feel to whom they feel they can turn, to report solicitation. These targeted kids may also not wish to report the behaviour, as they may simply be glad for the interest and may naturally be naïve about the nature of the attention.

Microsoft describes the actions of online predators:
– Find kids through social networking, blogs, chat rooms, instant messaging, email, discussion boards, and other websites.
– Seduce their targets through attention, affection, kindness, and even gifts.
– Know the latest music and hobbies likely to interest kids.
– Listen to and sympathise with kids’ problems.
– Try to ease young people’s inhibitions by gradually introducing sexual content into their conversations or by showing them sexually explicit material.
– Might also evaluate the kids they meet online for future face-to-face contact.

Out of context, this starts out sounding like friendly behaviour. But clearly there is a very unhealthy progression. In essence, it is like long-term social engineering, because it is done with harmful intent. Solicitation preys on innocent, trusting people in order to get something that they would not freely give otherwise.

It’s important to establish rules for children about when it is okay to post photos or give contact or identifying information for themselves or family members

It’s best for children to socialise online only with kids they know in real life and they should avoid personal discussions with strangers online, especially conversations involving sex, violence, and illegal activities

As older kids become eligible for social networking sites, they may wish to meet in person some people that they have met online. It is important that a parent or guardian accompanies the teen to any first meeting, to determine whether the situation is safe and age-appropriate. The idea of establishing rules is not to make a child fearful of strangers, but to instil in them an ability to scrutinise communications in a way that comes from a healthy sense of self-worth.

Perhaps the most important thing you can do to protect kids from online predators is to establish a good rapport and open lines of communication with them. Social engineering relies on creating a strong feeling either of fear or of trust. If a child feels they can discuss their experiences with a trusted adult, without concern for punishment or judgment, they can verify whether questionable online communications are scams or solicitation. It is important to remember that even if children respond positively to online predators, they are still the victims in the same way that anyone who has fallen for a scam is a victim.

The general idea here is not to come from a place of accusing children, or scaring them about potential dangers. If you approach your child’s online activities with a sense of curiosity and interest, you can potentially see a problem before it becomes genuinely dangerous.

Children are naturally curious, and the Internet can be a great way for them to learn and explore, given reasonable boundaries to guide them.

About Colin McGann

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