How do we protect kids from online predators?

Eight out of 10 children sexually abused online have had their social network site accessed by their abuser to gain information about them.

According to internet security company ESET Ireland, online predators increasingly are gathering information about potential victims from social networking sites.

It found in 82% of online sex crimes against minors, the offender used the victim’s social networking site to gain information about the victim’s likes and dislikes. It also found that 65% of online sex offenders used the victim’s social networking site to gain home and school information about the victim.

ESET Ireland previously did research which revealed that up to 73% of Irish children are left unsupervised online. That study found 13% of people aged 15-24 admitted to being cyberbullied.

According to Microsoft, the actions of online predators include:

- Finding children through social networking, blogs, chat rooms, instant messaging, email, discussion boards, and other sites.

- Seducing targets with attention, affection, kindness, and even gifts.

- Knowing the latest music and hobbies likely to interest kids.

- Listening to and sympathising with young people’s problems.

- Trying to ease young people’s inhibitions by gradually introducing sexual content into conversations or by showing them sexually explicit material.

- Evaluating the kids they meet online for future face-to-face contact.

ESET Ireland have advised parents to establish some rules for children for when it’s suitable for them to send or post photos and give contact or identifying information for themselves or family members.

Parents should also let their children know it is best to socialise online only with kids they know in real life and to avoid personal discussions with strangers online, especially conversations involving sex, violence, and illegal activities.

The company advises parents that, if older children wish to meet in person people that they have met online, they should accompany the teen to any first meeting, to determine whether the situation is safe and age-appropriate.

“The general idea here is not to come from a place of accusing children, or scaring them about potential dangers. If you approach your child’s online activities with a sense of curiosity and interest, you can potentially see a problem before it becomes genuinely dangerous.

“Children are naturally curious, and the internet can be a great way for them to learn and explore, given reasonable boundaries to guide them.

“With proper adult guidance, they can gain the confidence to protect themselves throughout all their online and offline endeavours,” it read.

ESET said the most important thing parents can do to protect children from online predators is to establish a good rapport and open lines of communication with them.

“If a child feels they can discuss their experiences with a trusted adult, without concern for punishment or judgement, they can verify whether questionable online communications are scams or solicitation.”

“It is important to remember that even if children respond positively to online predators, they are still the victims in the same way that anyone who has fallen for a scam is a victim.”



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