Before the Internet, child predators had to "groom" their victims in person -- often taking weeks or months to gain the trust of their prey.
The Internet allowed pedophiles a whole new way to access children -- by pretending to be other kids, they can specifically target children in order to lure them into dangerous situations.
And now, if that wasn't bad enough, child predators have found a new, and more disturbing, way to get close to your children -- through you.
Momlogic contributor and Internet Safety Specialist Lori Getz made us aware of one of the scariest new trends among child predators -- infiltrating parenting websites and befriending parents in order to get to their kids:
Let me give you an example. You are a new parent again, you already have a 4-year-old, and now you have a beautiful new baby who just won't sleep. You don't remember having this same issue with the older one (we all know how amnesia sets in), and you are desperate for sleep. It's 3 AM and you are searching for answers on the Internet.
You come across a parenting networking site where you can ask questions of experts and get advice from other parents dealing with similar issues. A young dad logs in and sees your desperate post about sleep training. He knows the perfect person to help you. He even sends you a message through the system with the sleep trainer's name and phone number and his personal e-mail address in case you need more support. You are grateful for the advice, log off, and wait for morning to call the sleep trainer for help.
To be polite, you send the dad a thank-you note, and after a few e-mail exchanges, you realize you two have a lot in common. Your kids are the same age; you live near one another and even play at the same park. So you set up a playdate. However, when your new friend arrives, he tells you the kids got sick but he wanted to come by and say hello in person. You are excited to introduce your new friend to the other parents at the park and subsequently your children and all of your friends' kids too.
STOP! You may have just let a predator into your life, and because you trust this person, so will your children.
Predators are lurking in parenting networking sites, teachers' forums, and anywhere else they believe they can cultivate relationships with adults that may lead them to children.
When a teacher brings in an expert on volcanoes to demonstrate the power of ammonium dichromate, the students believe this is someone they can trust. "If Mr. Johnson trusts him, I can too." But where did Mr. Johnson meet this expert? Is he really there for the benefit of education, or does he have an ulterior motive?
We, as adults, need to be careful who we let into our lives and the lives of our children. Once a child trusts a predator, it is easy for the predator to manipulate that child. Using the friendship and trust the predator has established with the adult can actually be used against the child. "Your teacher will be impressed if you come with me to finish an extra credit project." Or "Your mommy sent me to pick you up. Remember me? She introduced us at the park."
According to Getz, it is important that we keep this in mind the next time we log onto any site where we can communicate with strangers. Follow these tips to ensure everyone's safety:
1. Create a screen name that does not give away personal information. Your online name should consist of random letters and numbers and not your real name or the names of your kids. Do not give anyone an opportunity to use your personal information in your screen name to strike up a conversation.
2. Use a pseudo-identity. Use a fake name every time you set up an online account for any networking site, forum, blog, or wiki.
3. Never give an online stranger the opportunity to meet you or your children face-to-face. Like I say to the kids, it's better to hurt someone's feelings than put you or your family in harm's way.
4. Report suspicious behavior. Just use common sense here. If you see something on a forum that looks suspicious or makes you uncomfortable, contact the webmaster immediately!
Parenting networks, teacher forums, and help columns are great ways to get information -- just don't use them to make new friends!
|Lori Getz is the founder of Cyber Education Consultants and speaks to students, parents and educators about Internet safety, security and ethics. She has a Master of Arts in Educational Technology from San Diego State University and is certified by isafe.org as an Internet Safety Specialist. Her mission is to help bridge the gap between a young generation of digital natives and their parents and teachers. She is the mother of one and lives in Los Angeles with her husband.|