The internet is the new "hangout" for children and teenagers today. Millions each day are on line, surfing, emailing, talking in chat groups or IMing their friends each day. All of these activities seem harmless enough, but parents need to be aware that predators are watching their children on the net.
There is a recognized profile of a child predator. Most are male, single, over 25 and usually very quiet. They come from just about every walk of life, can be rich or poor, highly educated or uneducated.
Frequently, when one is exposed, neighbors are shocked to learn that this shy fellow in their midsts was stalking children online. They usually have few friends because they are not able to socialize normally with people their own ages. They are very skilled, however, in getting to know teens and children. They frequently seek out jobs where they can be around children a great deal, such as a sports coach, youth leader, teacher or school janitor. A child predator will not think that what he is doing is wrong. Very frequently, they themselves have a history of being sexually abused or come from a violent background.
A typical child predator will usually target a number of children at the same time. When a child is targeted, the predator will start a process referred to as "grooming" the child. This means that the predator will soften the child's feeling toward him by flattering him, buying him presents or giving affection. They are very deft in recognizing how to approach a given child by quickly learning what the child is in need of: ego-boosting, physical affection or gifts. They build trust gradually, and then once the trust is gained, use other means such as guilt or blackmail to get the victim to do as he wishes. The internet child predator has the same profile, and now he has the anonymity of the world wide web to hide behind.
They will pretend to be the same age as the child they have targeted and stalk the sites that they know children like to visit. There are ways in which a parent can spot if his child is at risk of becoming a victim of an online predator. If your child suddenly turns the computer off when you come into the room, or is very secretative about what he or she is doing online, you have cause for concern.
If you notice that your child has new clothes or other items that you did not buy, he or she may be getting gifts. If you child spends an inordinate amount of time on the internet, or if you see phone calls to and from numbers you don't recognize, your child may be putting him or herself at risk with a predator. How can you, as a parent keep your child safe when he or she is online? One of the best defenses is open and honest communication with your child. Let them know there are predators out there.
The next step is to limit and monitor use of the computer and the internet. YOu have to know what sites your child is visiting, who he or she is talking to in chat rooms, and who he or she is sending and receiving emails to. It will also help to understand the shorthand kids use on the internet so you can see what they are talking about. Monitoring tools exist that can keep track of your child's computer use. An excellent organization that offers monitoring tools as well as translations for "internet speak", the acronyms kids use on the computer is Safe Computer Kids.
MJ Batta writes on various aspects of MySpace Dangers and manages the website SpyOnYourKids.Net