As more and more children have learned to use the internet—whether for research in school, for recreation, or for networking purposes—pedophiles have also become skilled at using the technology to find their victims.
Oftentimes, these online predators are not easy to catch, especially when they pretend to be the same age as the child. Here are some guidelines from Stairway Foundation, a nonprofit organization advocating against child sexual abuse, on how parents can teach online safety to their children.
Limit Personal Information in Social Networking Sites
Young people who have access to the internet often sign up for one or more social networking sites to keep in touch with friends. Telling them not to do so would not help. Rather, discuss with them the following safety rules.
- Set their Facebook, MySpace, or other social networking profiles private where only their immediate friends could see them. This would ensure that people who do not know them would have no access to their pages.
- Choose a profile picture that would not show their face or any revealing information about them (e.g., a picture of their school). Predators usually search these sites to identify a potential victim.
- Avoid putting their real names, school, addresses and telephone numbers on their profiles. These may be used by pedophiles to trace, contact, and befriend them, with the end goal of abusing them.
- Help them choose a nickname that would not reveal any personal information.
- As much as possible, children should not add anyone as their “friend” unless they have met them personally already, as pedophiles can pretend to be their age to gain access to their profiles.
Avoid Meeting an Online Friend in Person
Anyone on the internet can pretend to be a child, or even an adult whom the child can trust. Meeting an online friend in person could put the child in danger. If, for one reason or another, it could not be helped, the following guidelines could lessen the risk.
- Have an adult accompany the child to meet the online friend. This would send a signal to the potential pedophile that the child has a strong support system and would not be easy to abuse.
- Meet during the day in a crowded area like the mall. Never agree to an eyeball at night in a place that is not familiar to the adult.
- Never give the online friend an opportunity to be alone with the child.
- Any personal information that can be used to trace the child’s whereabouts (e.g., home and school address, phone number) should not be given out.
Encourage Open Communication
Among other things, an open communication line between parents and the children would lessen the risk of sexual abuse. In terms of online safety, openly talking about the child’s internet habits would also do the same.
- Talk to the children about the internet. They must be made to realize that not everything they read or see online is true.
- Encourage children’s sharing or questions about the internet. What do they do when they are online? Which websites do they frequent? Have they met someone and could they be “introduced” to the parents?
- Place the computer outside the child’s bedroom. This would lessen a pedophile’s opportunity of getting the child “alone.”
With the increasing number of children learning how to use the internet, pedophiles have gained easier access to potential victims. It is up to the parents to ensure that children are aware of these risks, and that they are guided to steer clear of internet predators.
Should a child be victimized by pedophiles—online or in real life—there are some guidelines to handle disclosures of sexual abuse.
This article was first published in Suite101.com on 23 February 2010 and deleted there upon my request.
[…] predators. Aleah, a mental health counselor, wrote this brief, yet informed article titled “How to Keep Children Safe from Online Predators.” The guidelines she shared come from the Stairway Foundation, a nonprofit organization […]