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Saturday, April 18, 2009

How to Protect our Children from High Tech Abuse

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It wasn't too long ago that I, as a parent, thought that technology was a good thing - for parents and children alike, but the more involved my own children have become in social networking, chat rooms, myspace, facebook, cell phones, twitter, instant messaging, and God knows what else, I realize we have a whole lot more we need to do to protect our children from predators - those sick bastards out there who think nothing of luring our children into their web of lies and abuse. 

When my children were little, we bought each of them a cell phone (no camera or fancy stuff) just cell phones.  That was after we had purchased a Motorola walkie-talkie so that we could communicate with our children when they were out playing with friends in the community - and after we heard some man trying to get sassy with our daughter after hearing her talk to us over the walkie-talkie.  That was the end of that.

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Cell phones were safer and we have discovered ways to protect our children.  For instance, they can only call certain phone numbers and can only receive calls from certain phone numbers.  I also like the tracking feature that parents can attach to their child's phone.  So, yes, there are benefits.  BUT, I have also learned that if a child wants to do things they know are a big no-no with their parents, they will surely find a way around it.  We may be able to protect them from some things, but we can't protect them from life.  And now, life is full of techno gadgets and gizmos, and internet programs and sites that lure in even the most behaved of children.

These same gadgets we enjoy at home - computers, cell phones, digital cameras, and social networking sites, are the same gadgets that criminals have at their disposal too, taking the sexual abuse of children to a whole new level.  Knowing this is the first step we can take, as parents, to protect our children. 

Here are just a few tips that might help you keep a closer eye on your child ...

Top 9 Things Every Parent Needs to Know:

1. Every child who has access to the internet is at risk.

Predators are experts at luring children—even smart, good-natured children can become victims. Young children are lured by love and are very trusting. Men who are predators know this and take advantage of our children.  A grown man who is a predator knows exactly what to "say" and ultimately "do" to entice an emotionally vulnerable child.

2. Understand technology and its potential dangers.

Purchase software that will restrict your child from potentially dangerous areas of the Internet, and only let your child access sites that you know are safe.  Keep the computer that the children use in a main part of the house, somewhere where you can see what they are doing, look over their shoulder if necessary, and monitor the time spent online.  Do Not put a computer in your child's bedroom. 

Screenshot_253. Don't keep your children in the dark.

Talk to your children!  Tell them stories that will alert them to the dangers of the internet.  Be open with your children so that they don't think that you are punishing them, but rather, protecting them.

4. Keep your personal computer locked down.

Do you have a laptop or personal computer in a home office?  Keep it locked down, so that when you are not at your computer, your child cannot access the internet.  My personal computer and laptop is password protected, so if I am inactive for a few minutes, my screensaver pops up and if I move the mouse, it requires a password to access.  This will keep the sneaky little boogers from getting on the internet where they don't belong.

5. Monitor your child's activity regularly.

If you purchase cyber safe software to monitor your child, it isn't going to do you or your child any good if you don't check to see what they've been up to.  Cyber software can only do so much and it isn't the internet babysitter.  It is ultimately your responsibility as a parent to protect your children on the internet at home.  Remember, it isn't enough just to monitor their computer activity.  As parents, you need to monitor their cell phone activity as well.  This isn't snooping - it is protecting your child.

6. Talk to the parents of your child's friends.

Do your children have a best friend that they visit regularly?  Do they have sleepovers?  It's time to talk to the parents.  How safe are their kids on the internet?  How much access do the friends have to the online social network?  Do your child's friend(s) have a cell phone (with a camera?) and do they have a computer in their bedroom?  Not to be nosy, but hey!  As a parent, it is our responsibility to know these things and ask the important questions.  Don't trust that your child is safe just because you think the friend is a nice kid or their parents are nice people.  They may not be as computer safety savvy as you'd like and it's time you enlighten them.  Bottom line - if you feel uncomfortable or sense a red flag - forget the sleepover, or better yet, bring the sleepover to your house where there are no computers or cell phones in bedrooms and every other computer is chained and locked down.

Screenshot_27 7. Communication is key.

All of your child's friends may be taking pictures with their cell phones, talking in chat rooms, and setting up profiles in Facebook, but that doesn't mean yours has to.  Talk to your children.  Educate them of the dangers of the internet and of taking pictures with their cell phone or digital camera.  Most of all, do your research and get to know your child's friends and the parents of those friends.  Communicate with your child.  Communicate with your child's friends, and communicate with their parents.  Asking too much is better than not asking at all.

8. Talk to your children about what is inappropriate.

Children are trusting and don't think that pictures that they take of themselves and each other even in a bathing suit could be considered pornography.  Set them straight.  Explain to them the dangers of taking such pictures and how they can get in the wrong hands.

9.  No Texting.  No Camera Phones.  No Problems.

Bottom line, if you don't want your kid to shoot his foot off, don't put a loaded gun in his pocket.  Giving your child a cell phone is one thing, but having a camera in hand and texting and internet privileges on that phone is an entirely different animal.  Don't give it to them and they won't miss it.  Well, they may want it because their friends have it, but that doesn't mean you have to give in to the pull of society's evils.  Your kids will thank you some day for keeping them on a short leash.

Now that I've got all of that off my chest, here are some links to software that can help you to take the first step in protecting your child online:

Go McGruff
Kid Innovation
Net Nanny
Spector Software

Intervening in your child's activities, on the computer, with friends, at school, especially when you feel your child may be in danger is not invading their privacy, it is being a responsible parent. Any time you feel a sense that your child may be in danger or that there may be a risk to your child's physical safety, character, or morals, it is time to step in.  We've had to do that several times to protect our children and we don't regret it.  So they get angry with you and have a temper-tantrum - so what.  Let them burn off their energy getting angry, but at least you did the responsible thing as a parent to protect them.  If you feel that your pre-teen or teenage child is being exposed to anything that's bad for them—a friend who is a bad influence, dangerous or inappropriate e-mails, unusual phone calls, or inappropriate instant messages or chats—you should be vigilant about helping your child.  Start with communication. Eliminate the source of the problem if you can and do your best to protect your child going forward.

SusanSignature


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