A Parent's Guide to Internet Safety

Furnished by: Federal Bureau of Investigation Crimes Against Children Program

While on-line computer exploration opens a world of possibilities for children, expanding their horizons and exposing them to different cultures and ways of life, they can be exposed to dangers as they hit the road exploring the information highway. There are individuals who attempt to sexually exploit children through the use of on-line services and the Internet.

It is important for parents to understand that children can be indirectly victimized through conversation, i.e. “chat,” as well as the transfer of sexually explicit information and material.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has prepared a guide from actual investigations involving child victims, as well as investigations where law enforcement officers posed as children. Excerpts of the guide are contained in this resource booklet. Further information on protecting your child on-line may be found in the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s Child Safety on the Information Highway and Teen Safety on the Information Highway pamphlets.

What Are Signs That Your Child Might Be At Risk On-line?

  • Your child spends large amounts of time on-line, especially at night.
  • You find pornography on your child’s computer.
  • Your child turns the computer monitor off or quickly changes the screen on the monitor when you come into the room.
  • Your child receives phone calls from men you don’t know or is making calls, sometimes long distance, to numbers you don’t recognize.
  • Your child receives mail, gifts, or packages from someone you don’t know.
  • Your child becomes withdrawn from the family or social opportunities.
  • Your child is using an on-line account belonging to someone else.

What Can You Do To Minimize The Chances Of An Online Exploiter Victimizing Your Child?

  • Communicate, and talk to your child about sexual victimization and potential on-line danger.
  • Spend time with your children on-line. Have them teach you about their favorite on-line destinations.
  • Keep the computer in a common room in the house, not in your child’s bedroom. It is much more difficult for a computer-sex offender to communicate with a child when the computer screen is visible to a parent or another member of the household.
  • Utilize parental controls provided by your service provider and/or blocking software. While electronic chat can be a great place for children to make new friends and discuss various topics of interest, it is also prowled by computer-sex offenders. Use of chat rooms, in particular, should be heavily monitored. While parents should utilize these mechanisms, they should not totally rely on them.
  • Always maintain access to your child’s on-line account and randomly check his/her e-mail. Be aware that your child could be contacted through the U.S. Mail. Be up front with your child about your access and reasons why.
  • Teach your child the responsible use of the resources on-line.
  • Find out what computer safeguards are utilized by your child’s school, the public library, and at the homes of your child’s friends. These are all places, outside your normal supervision, where your child could encounter an on-line predator.
  • Understand, even if your child was a willing participant in any form of sexual exploitation, that he/she is not at fault and is the victim. The offender always bears the complete responsibility for his or her actions.
  • Webcams can be dangerous, do not allow children to post photographs of themselves or family anywhere without a parent’s permission.
  • Teach your child the responsible use of the resources online.
  • Cell Phones: are basically mini computers now, don’t allow unlimited web surfing, text messaging, or photography on kids’ cell phones. Many cell providers now have different Instant Messaging (IM) clients installed on the phones. This should be monitored as well as home computers. Best advice, if they must have a cell phone, consider keeping it primitive with no internet connectivity and no camera.

Instruct Your Children:

Most high school students have a profile or page on a social networking website such as Facebook and Twitter. Teens enjoy this method of communicating with each other. The risk of these social networking websites is teens giving out too much personal information or posting pictures which clearly show illegal behavior. Help your child minimize the risk. Teens should…

  • Never upload (post) pictures of themselves onto the Internet or on-line service to people they do not personally know;
  • Never give out identifying information such as their name, home address, school name, or telephone number; **DO NOT post personal identification info on-line**
  • Never download pictures from an unknown source, as there is a good chance there could be sexually explicit images;
  • Never respond to messages or bulletin board postings that are suggestive, obscene, belligerent, or harassing;
  • Never arrange a face-to-face meeting with someone they met on- line;
  • Understand that whatever they are told on-line may or may not be true.

Be aware that photos and personal information can be taken from an individual’s page and reused or reproduced by anyone without the consent of the owner of the page. Many college admissions offices check the social networking websites pages of the students applying to their schools. Even though students naively take and distribute pictures of themselves and friends, they can be charged with production, distribution and/or possession of child pornography depending on the content of the photograph. Be aware of these issues and discuss with your child.

What Should You Do If You Suspect Your Child Is Communicating With A Sexual Predator On-line?

  • Consider talking openly with your child about your suspicions.
  • Review what is on your child’s computer.
  • Use the Caller ID service to determine who is calling your child.
  • Devices can be purchased that show telephone numbers that have been dialed from your home phone.
  • Monitor your child’s access to all types of live electronic communications (i.e., chat rooms, instant messages, Internet Relay Chat, email, etc.

Reviewed by Kenneth Nix – Detective, Clayton Police Department, June 2016