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Internet Safety for Kids: Seven Signs Your Child May be at Risk

While the Internet instantly provides kids a world of information, experiences, friends, and enjoyment, it can also expose them to immediate and very serious dangers from online predators.

To ensure your child stays safe on the Internet, read the following crucial Internet safety points and, appropriate to your child's age, be sure to share the insights and cautions with them.

The Risk of Online Sex Offenders
The Federal Bureau of Investigation's "A Parent's Guide to Internet Safety" notes that individuals who use the Internet to sexually exploit children:

  • Seduce kids with kindness, trust and even gifts

  • Empathize with kids' problems

  • Relate to children's hobbies, music and interests

  • Lure children into sexual conversations by sharing pornographic photos or comments

  • Can be any age or sex

  • Use chat rooms or instant messengers to contact kids, and may ultimately try to contact them via phone or meet in person

Sex offenders may
empathize with kids'
problems to lure them
into conversation.

Why are Children at Risk?
Children, and particularly teens, may be curious about sex and interested in rebelling against their parents' control. They may also like the attention or feel that the person is validating their opinions, a tactic used intentionally by such offenders.

The FBI has compiled "The Parent's Guide to Internet Safety" -- prepared from actual investigations with child victims -- that will help you keep your kids safe on the Internet. Access the full report (in Adobe .pdf format) now.

Seven Signs YOUR Child May Be at Risk
Being an informed parent is the best way to protect your kids online. If you notice any of these behaviors or signs in your child, don't look the other way -- talk with your child about their Internet usage immediately:

1. Your child spends large amounts of time online, particularly at night. Most children who are victimized spend a lot of time on the Internet, in chat rooms. They are most vulnerable at night when sex offenders are most likely to seek out victims (although it can occur at anytime of day).

2. You find pornography on the computer. Sex offenders often send pornographic material to children as a way of opening conversations about the topic.

3. Your child receives phone calls from strangers, or makes unusual long-distance phone calls. Most offenders will attempt to contact the child by phone sooner or later.

Spending large amounts
of time on the computer
at night may put your
child at risk of sex

4. Your child receives packages or letters from strangers. Sex offenders will often attempt to send your child gifts and personal letters. Some have even sent plane tickets asking the child to visit.

5. Your child turns the computer monitor off when you come in the room. A child talking with a sex offender will most likely try to keep it secret from you.

6. Your child becomes withdrawn. Sex offenders prey on children by severing them from their families emotionally. They often over-emphasize minor problems children have with their families as a way of doing so.

7. Your child uses an Internet account belonging to someone else. If you don't subscribe to the Internet, you child may have been given an account name by an offender while using a friend's computer.

What to do if You Suspect Your Child is Being Victimized Online
The FBI offers several important tips to protect your child from this dangerous situation:

  • Talk with your child openly about the dangers of Internet use and your expectations for them while online.

  • Review your child's computer periodically for visited Web site and/or pornographic material. Even if you are a computer neophyte, it is worth learning how to review the sites they've visited and the images they have downloaded. You are not "prying" -- you are being a responsible parent.

  • Monitor your child's use of online chat rooms and other electronic forms of communication like pagers and cell phones.

  • Invest in the CallerID feature on your home telephone, and request detailed billing from cell phone carriers if your child has a cell phone, to track who is calling your child

Minimize Your Child's Risk
Finally, there are ways to protect your child and minimize their chances of being victimized. After all, the Internet is an excellent tool that can broaden your child's horizons in a positive way, provided it's used in a safe manner.

  • Discuss potential Internet dangers with your child

  • Spend time with your child online

Talking with your child about potential Internet dangers can ensure your child is able to safely enjoy the Internet and all it has to offer.

  • Keep the computer in a common room (not the child's room)

  • Use parental controls provided by service providers to block questionable material and Web sites (internet service providers like AOL and NetZero, as well as major search engines like Yahoo, have a variety of parental controls available at no cost)

  • Instruct your child never to give out their name, phone number, address or photo to someone they meet online

  • Maintain access to your child's Internet account and check his/her e-mail occasionally

  • Teach your child that there's more to the Internet than chat rooms, and spend time exploring educational Web sites together


FBI Publications: "A Parent's Guide to Internet Safety"

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