Keeping Kids Safe on the Internet

As sexual predators increasingly turn to chat rooms, e-mail and Web sites to target children, parents need to watch for the warning signs. Here’s how you can make the Internet a safer place.

By Natalie Walker Whitlock and Marilyn Martinez

Late one night in 2001, a 13-year-old boy opened the door of his San Fernando Valley home believing he was letting in an older teenager he met in an Internet chat room. Instead, the person on the other side of the door was Michael Robert Green, 41, a man who had posed as a teen in the chat room, talking to the young boy and, ultimately, convincing him to explore his sexuality.

Are Your Kids Safe on the Internet?

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  • Profile of a Predator
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  • Chat Room Lingo
  • Warning Signs
  • Online Safety Guidelines

  • The boy allowed Green into his room, where he was sexually molested. The boy’s mother, who found out about the sexual encounter by reading her son’s diary, called police. 

    Following a police investigation and arrest, Green plead guilty to two counts of a lewd act with a child under 14. The chat room technique Green used, says Det. James Brown of the Los Angeles Police Department, is common.

    “Before the Internet child predators would do what they could to be around children to begin the process of friendship and, eventually, breaking down barriers,” says Brown, who supervises the department’s sexually exploited children’s unit. “The whole goal is always a sexual encounter. The only difference now is they can do it in a chat room.”

    Stories about predators like Green are often the ones parents see on the evening news: the child victim is lured by a stranger (usually a much older male) met on the Internet into a compromising and dangerous situation. Sometimes disaster is averted; other times the outcome is tragic.

    Many times the cases are less dramatic, but they can still damage children. A few years ago a group of sixth graders at a Los Angeles private school convinced their parents to create a chat room for talk and homework. The private chat room was accessible by a secret code. After a few months a relative visiting one of the student’s home looked in the protected chat room and found hard core pornography.

    “There were kids having nightmares,” says Barbara Polland, a professor of child and adolescent development at
    Cal State University, Northridge and a psychotherapist. “It turns out those images came from one house and they had to find out whether it was the uncle or the son (who posted the images).”

    These cases illustrate the real danger the Internet can pose to children. Yet, the Internet can be an entertainment and educational resource for families, as well as a convenient way to communicate with friends and family.

    So how can concerned parents combat the seamier side of the Internet? The good news is there are many options. But first, you must understand the dangers children face online. Knowing the particular hazards of online life is the first step to helping insure your kids’ Internet experience is a positive one.

    Continue: Online Risks & Threats

    Related Reading: Cyber Brats: Protect your kids from bullies who taunt their peers with the click of a mouse.