Studies reveal that 1 in 5 children who regularly access the Internet received a sexual solicitation last year. One in 33 received an aggressive solicitation where the predator attempted to reach the child outside of the Internet, either by phone, mail, or in person. Predators can now use the Internet to contact hundreds of children without ever leaving their homes. With over 77 million children regularly using the Internet today, the potential number of victims is staggering.
FBI PROGRAM-SAFE ONLINE SURFING CHALLENGE:
A free web-based initiative designed to help teachers educate students about cyber safety.
How it Works
Each month, students compete to win the FBI-SOS Internet Challenge by playing games, completing activities, and taking web-based quizzes. Designed to meet state and federal Internet safety mandates, the FBI-SOS Internet Challenge addresses relevant Internet topics and concerns that students face today.
A teacher or administrator can register his/her school at https://sos.fbi.gov. Students are tested using a key code provided by their teachers. No information on students is collected or stored by the FBI. Results are ranked on a national level and schools with the highest score in each category (at the end of each month) will earn the FBI-SOS national trophy.
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Safety Myths and the Web
Kids today live in an interactive world where they socialize, post photographs and videos and share common experiences with friends, friends of friends and, in some cases, strangers. Millions of kids are doing it every day and the overwhelming majority of them seem to be doing just fine. But that doesn't mean that the social Web is a danger-free zone. There are things teens, parents, teachers and other caregivers need to think about to ensure that online socializing remains “smart socializing.”
Let’s start by dispelling one popular myth. Your kids don’t have all the answers when it comes to the use of technology. They may know more about how to operate a computer or a cell phone or put a page up on a social networking site, but just because some adults are a bit technologically challenged doesn't mean that they have no place supervising kids’ use of technology. Adults have one thing that teens don’t have - life experience - which for most translates into wisdom. Adults know, for example, that things aren’t always what they appear to be. They know that while most people in this world are decent and caring, there are a few who will take advantage of others and you can find these people on the Internet just as you would in “the real world” (though, for teens there is no distinction between the Internet and “the real world.” The Internet is a big part of their world).
But there are other myths that we must also dispel. One is that Internet predators typically deceive their victims by lying about their age or their gender. While that is possible, it’s usually not the case. Research has shown that most adults who attempt to engage in a physical relationship with a minor do not grossly exaggerate their age. In most cases, the young person is aware that that person is an adult prior to the meeting.
To be sure, there are predators who would harm children. That’s one reason that it’s important for kids to be cautious when communicating with people they don’t know in person, especially if the conversation starts to be about sex or physical details. Fortunately most teens are pretty careful which is why there is a fairly small number of cases of teens who are physically harmed by these criminals. Still, one case is too many and if you hear about a case of someone using the Internet to groom or lure a minor into a sexual situation or if you find sexual images of children (child pornography), call local authorities and report it at CyberTipLine.com.
If you don’t get together with someone you meet online, they can’t physically harm you so your safest bet is to avoid meeting such people in the real world. If a teen does get together with someone it should be in a very public place and they should bring along a parent, a group of friends or maybe the football team and cheerleading squad. You never want to meet someone in person in a way that could make you vulnerable.
Another thing we know about threats to teens and children is that they don’t always come from adults and they’re often from someone they know. Kids can and sometimes do harm other kids. Threats often come from peers kids know from school or other real world situations. Whether it’s unwanted sexual advances, harassment or what’s now called “cyber bullying,” peer to peer threats are real and can be harmful.
If a teen or child is being bothered or harassed by anyone the best advice is to not respond to that person and tell someone. That should include a parent, guardian or teacher but, for teens, it can also include trusted friends. Sometimes kids can handle the situation on their own or in groups but at other times it requires adult intervention and, in serious cases, maybe even the police. Not all harm is physical. Cyber bullying can be emotionally devastating.
It’s important to listen and provide support to a child or teen who is scared, worried or bothered by such contact but not to overreact or “punish the victim” by taking away Internet privileges or forcing them to avoid using social networking sites or other services. The fear of an adult overreacting is one of the reasons many teens give for not coming forward if they have a problem.
Parents also need to know that taking away a teen’s online privileges could backfire by prompting him or her to go into stealth mode by finding hidden ways to get online. If you take away a child’s online profile for a service, he or she can easily create another one or - worse - find a service that doesn’t even try to enforce basic safety rules. And if you ban teens from using a computer or attempt to filter what they can access, the young person can find another way to get online including friends’ computers or a cell phone. Modern phones have web browsers and some even have special software for getting onto social networks.
This all leads to the fact that - regardless of what technology parents try to employ, the best filter is the one that runs in the young person’s brain - not in a computer.
Cell phones can also be used to bully and harass a young person. Text messages can sometimes be hurtful. And some phones have global positioning systems and software that allow teens to broadcast their location. Kids need to know how to use the privacy features these services offer to be sure they aren’t easily locatable by people they don’t trust.
Finally, Internet safety is a two-way street. Kids should be good online citizens and not harm, threaten or bully others for two reasons. First because it’s wrong and second because it can get them in trouble with authorities, parents and even other kids.
Guideline for Parents
- Talk with your children about what they can and cannot do online.
- Be reasonable and set reasonable expectations. Try to understand their needs, interests and curiosity. Remember what it was like when you were their age.
- Be open with your children and encourage them to come to you if they encounter a problem online.
- If they tell you about someone or something they encountered, your first response should not be to blame them or take away their Internet privileges. Work with them to help avoid problems in the future, and remember - your response will determine whether they confide in you the next time they encounter a problem and they learn to deal with problems on their own.
- Learn everything you can about the Internet.
- Ask your kids to show you what's cool. Have them show you great places for teens and fill you in on areas that you might benefit from as well. Make "surfing the net" a family experience. Use it to plan a vacation, pick out a movie or check out other family activities. Make this one area where you get to be the student and your child gets to be the teacher.
- Check out blocking, filtering and rating applications.
- If you or your children post photos online from a smart phone, you may want to consider reading this article from CBS reporter Chris Wragge: http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2010/11/03/geo-tagging-the-dangers-of-posting-pictures-online/
As you may know, there are now services that rate web sites for content as well as filtering programs and browsers that empower parents to block the types of sites they consider to be inappropriate. These programs work in different ways. Some prevent users from entering certain types of information such as their name and address. Other programs keep your child away from chat rooms or restrict their ability to send or read email. Generally these programs can be configured by the parent to only block the types of sites that the parent considers to be objectionable.
Whether or not it is appropriate to use one of these programs is a personal decision. If you do use such a program, you'll probably need to explain to your teen why you feel it is necessary. You should also be careful to choose a program with criteria that reflects your family values. Be sure to configure it so that it doesn't block sites that you want your teen to be able to visit.
It is important to realize that filtering programs cannot protect your child from all dangers in cyberspace. To begin with, no program can possible block out every inappropriate site. What's more, it's possible, in some cases, for the programs to block sites that are appropriate. If you use a filtering program, you should re-evaluate it periodically to make sure it's working for your family.
Regardless of whether you use a filtering program, you should still be sure that your teen follows all of the basic rules. Filtering programs are not a substitute for good judgment or critical thinking. With or without filters, children and their parents need to be "net savvy" and communicate with each other.