"With the explosion of technology comes a new avenue for criminal activity and bullying," warned Michael J. Thomas, crime watch coordinator for the Ross Police Department. "Crimes committed online are difficult and sometimes impossible to investigate or prosecute. And the far reaching effects of bullying are well-known. The best prevention is education."
The following is offered by Ross Police as a guide and to increase awareness among parents and children alike.
Online predators reach out to children through social networking, taking advantage of the anonymity and easy trust that can quickly develop online to develop relationships with children. They participate in blogs, chat rooms, instant messaging and on discussion boards and are knowledgeable about current music and social trends. Acting sympathetic to kids’ problems, they seduce their targets through attention, kindness and even gifts. Gifts that might not come to your front door so you might not be aware of them. Think music downloads, online subscriptions, video games – the list is long.
So what does a parent do to combat this? Talk to your kids about these predators and potential online dangers. Protect them by activating the parental control software that’s built into Windows 7 or download free software from the Windows Live Family Settings. Keep the computer in a common area of the house with the screen easily visible and make the time to check on what they are viewing.
If your children want to use chat rooms and you approve, direct them to well-monitored sites and make sure you know which ones they use. Log onto them yourself and see what’s being said. Warn them about leaving the main chat room to talk privately in a “whisper” area. hat’s where predators lurk since others cannot read these conversations.
Now, what happens if your child receives an instant message (IM) or email from a stranger? Establish a procedure in your house that they tell you! Remember how many times your child has heard “Just Say No to Drugs”? Well, they need to hear about Internet safety just as often.
Despite your best efforts, a predator could still reach out to your child. They’re skilled, they find openings. Blame them, not your kids. Take decisive action to stop and further contact. If your child receives sexually-explicit photos from an online correspondent or if he or she is being solicited sexually online, contact your local police. Save any documentation including email addresses, website addresses and chat logs to share with the police.
Here’s a list of tips to tell your kids to reduce the risk of them being victimized. Maybe post them by the computer as a family Internet agreement:
- Never download images from an unknown source.
- Use email filters.
- Tell an adult immediately if anything that happens online makes them uncomfortable/frightened.
- Choose a gender-neutral screen name that doesn’t reveal personal information or contain sexually suggestive words, i.e. “hot,” “babe.”
- Never, never reveal personal information (age, gender, address, phone, school, sports team, job) about themselves or their family. Go to How to help your kids use social websites more safely - it's a Microsoft site.
- Stop communicating to anyone who asks personal or sexually suggestive questions.
Another real problem that the Ross Police warns parents about is online bullies. It’s bad enough on the playground or school bus – but coming into your home, too?! It’s bullying that is online for literally millions of people to see, share, and comment upon.
Bullying is defined as repeated behavior intended to tease, demean, or harass someone less powerful. Now it’s happening in text messages and opens the door to 24-hour hurt.
How does it happen? This list is long and results when someone:
- sends hurtful or threatening messages to a target’s phone, in an online game, distributes altered pictures or a humiliating video on social media;
- discloses secrets or private information by forwarding a confidential message;
- deliberately excludes someone from an online group, game, in a virtual world or on social media;
- impersonates the victim by breaking into their phone or social media account and then sends or posts hateful comments;
- pretends to befriend another to gain their trust with the specific intention to betray that trust.
Why do kids do this? Boredom, to get peer approval, thinking they are “funny,” or for retaliation. Often, kids may not even recognize their behavior as bullying and refer to it as “drama.”
What can you do to stop it? Pay attention. Make time to listen to kids and ask them to report bullying to you. Give them support and reassure them that you won’t curtail their online or phone privileges because of someone else’s behavior. Lead by example and treat others with respect and kindness. Watch to see if your kids get upset when online or texting. Are they reluctant to go to school? View what they are saying online, too.
Encourage empathy in your kids. Tell them to be kind, don’t forward mean messages or reply to bullying messages. If you ask a bully to stop sending messages, do so politely and only if you think it is safe to do so.
If cyberbullying becomes an issue at your house, get the full story. It may not be simple. The child may be the target as a result of bullying someone else. Or not. Make a plan with your child to not respond or retaliate and decide if amends or apologies are in order from either or both parties. Of course, if you think your child is physically at risk, call the police.
Cyberbullying and online predators are complex issues and sometimes not easily solved. Talk to your children now about all that cyberbullying encompasses so they realize that it’s not just “drama” and that it’s not harmless. Let them know they should talk to you first if they encounter suspicious questions or email from strangers or experience cyberbullying and not suffer in silence or retaliate. Communication is the key when dealing with kids in our modern day technology-packed world.
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