Since the Internet first became available to the general public, there have been those who would use it for criminal purposes. As the Internet is used by more and more people with each passing day, so too are more people finding even more ways to give the Internet a bad name.
The term Internet safety encompasses quite a broad range of topics. The main ones range from the merely annoying and sometimes costly viruses, spyware, and spam to identity theft and personal information safety, scams and fraud, hackers, child pornography, and the sexual predator, who threaten not only adults but our children as well.
As the various branches of internet safety are so numerous, and there are nearly an infinite number of websites devoted to each of them, the concentration here will be on internet safety for our children.
The amount of information on the Internet is virtually boundless, and the subjects covered, vast. Since the Internet is not formally censored, there are topics available that are inappropriate for children. These can range from hate and bigotry, to adult material, child pornography, misinformation, drugs, tobacco, alcohol, hacking information, and the list goes on and on. Some of this material is appropriate only for adults, and some isn't appropriate for anyone. And then, of course, there are the predators.
Unfortunately, there are people, both men and women, who prey on children online and offline. These people are pedophiles.
Until the advent of the Internet, pedophiles were essentially loners. Unfortunately, the anonymity of the Internet has emboldened many pedophiles. They have formed very active groups online, feeling less threatened because they do not meet face-to-face, and can hide behind their computer monitor.
These groups often educate pedophiles about how to lure children into face-to-face meetings. They share tips that have proven successful, and share arguments that can be used to get past the child's "stranger danger" defenses. They teach each other about recent popular topics and products which can be used to lure children into face-to-face meetings.
Although some of these sites may be illegal, many are not. Speech is highly protected in the United States, and many of these sites fall into the area of protected speech. Just because they are legal, however, doesn't mean that our children should be exposed to them.
But even the most dangerous online predator hasn't yet mastered the technology to allow them to reach through the monitor and grab your children. Your child may be emotionally wounded by an online predator, but they are truly endangered if the predator tries to reach your child offline as well. But they can't do that unless your child shares information that would allow the predator to find your child, or unless your child affirmatively wants to meet that person.
As a parent, educator or caretaker, you need to guard against that happening. Your child should be carefully taught not to share personal information online, whether on a profile or in a chat room. You have to teach them what information is personal. You may want to encourage them to use fun online aliases, rather than their own names. You may want to use filtering software which prevents them from sharing personal information with others online.
You child should not be allowed to surf alone in their room. It should be a family activity, in a central location. This will make it harder for the predator to get your child alone long enough to lure them into an offline meeting. Teach them never to meet anyone they met online, offline. Teach them that people online may not be whom they seem to be or whom they say they are.
If you, as a parent or guardian, are concerned that a child may have been contacted by a sexual predator, either on-line or off-line, please do not hesitate to contact your local law enforcement agency and provide them with any and all information you may have.
By parents providing the proper education and supervision, along with the help of educators and law enforcement, our children can be kept safe in a world which can often be dangerous to the young and naive.