Twenty-first century technology, such as immediate Internet access to virtually any kind of information, and instant communication via cellular phones has improved our economy and the American lifestyle.
Most uses of the Internet and social networking sites provide a positive atmosphere in which people can make new friends and have fun. However, with each beneficial aspect of these technologies comes the greater risk that criminal predators can take advantage of our children.
Parents have the right, and the responsibility to monitor their children’s Internet and cellular phone activities.
The two most common incidents reported to police are:
1) Children that have been victimized by sexual predators
2) Bad behavior of teenagers harassing others through text-messaging, and verbal threats of harm. (Often these incidents become criminal charges.)
Internet Concerns It is highly recommended that parents discuss proper use of Internet technologies, impressing upon their children the dangers involved in using websites such as Myspace or Facebook (or any similar social networking site).
Intended to be sites where teenagers and young adults can communicate with their friends, often the content and conduct through these sites can cause great concern for their safety.
It is suggested that if parents allow their children to create a Myspace or other account, that the parents have full access to monitor the content and conduct within that account.
Most schools prohibit use of its computers for Internet communication, blocking students from accessing those kinds of websites. However, children often access these sites from a friend’s home, or at the local library.
The child may be naïvely continuing contact with someone intent on sexually abusing him/her at a later date. Most incidents of non-family related sexual abuse is by a sexual predator that spends an enormous amount of time (weeks, months or even years) grooming a child for future sexual abuse.
The abuser befriends the child, and earns that child’s trust over an extended time period. This is easily accomplished through Internet social networking contact, while parents have absolutely no idea the child is in danger. Maintain an open dialog with your children. Ask what they know about the dangers of communicating on social networking sites. Ask for examples or specific details to ensure your children fully understand the risks.
Some questions you may wish to discuss are:
Bad Behavior. Sometimes the problem isn’t caused by other people – it might be your child making the poor choice. Out of anger, a child might make threats of harm toward another individual. Perhaps in a fit of teen hormone-induced frustration the child writes threats to burn down an adversary’s house, or threaten to shoot someone.
Once the ‘enter’ or ‘send’ button has been pushed, there is no way to ‘take back’ what was said or implied.
Police take threats of harm seriously. Depending on the circumstances surrounding the incident, criminal charges could result. Regulations set by Myspace.com and other social networking websites specify in their terms and service agreements that persons under a certain age should not be creating a profile or accessing the site.
When illegal activities or criminally improper profiles are found to be in violation of the service agreement, the social networking site will terminate service of that profile. However, monitoring of every profile would be next to impossible. It is the responsibility of the parent or guardian to monitor the child’s access to the Internet.
Computer programs are available that allow parents to enter their child’s profile without the child’s knowledge.
This is a decision only the parent or guardian can evaluate and make.
There may be a high level of concern for those parents whose children fit one or more of the following situations:
1. The child will not allow them to see his/her Internet profile
2. The child hides the fact he/she has an Internet profile
3. The child has past incidents involving dishonesty
( i.e. he/she allows parent to see a profile, but fails to notify parent of other existing profiles)
4. The teen has a history of, or is suspected of making poor choices, such as drug use, involvement in gang activity, underage drinking, failing grades in school, unexcused absences, or skipping of school classes
5. The teen is currently on probation with the Juvenile Department for having committed criminal activity
6. The teen refuses to allow parents to meet his/her friends, or have contact with the parents of said friends.
The Internet and How It Relates to Employment and College Opportunities:
Aside from the previously discussed risk from Internet predators, prospective employers and those evaluating a student’s worth for college admittance might not be impressed. Employers and colleges seek mature individuals who can properly represent their organization.
In evaluating a person’s readiness to enter the professional world, many businesses and schools check what kind of Internet social sites a person visits, the content of blog conversations, and with whom that person associates.
Whether or not it seems fair, employers evaluate an applicant’s public image and previous behavior.
Discuss this topic with your children:
What would an employer think?
Cellular Telephone Usage and Text-Messaging Features: In this current technological age, teenagers (and some younger children) enjoy the luxury of having their own cellular phones. Parents often justify providing their children with cellular phones as a safety tool, allowing the parent to ‘locate’ or contact the kids in case of an emergency. Cellular phones are certainly a convenient and beneficial tool.
However, this device is often misused and, under certain circumstances, the abuse must be investigated by police. Just like the safety concerns related to Internet use by children, cellular phone usage should also be frequently monitored by parents.
Sometimes related to previous Internet social networking sites, the child may be continuing contact with someone intent upon sexually abusing him/her at a later date.
Most incidents of non-family related sexual abuse is by a ‘friend’ that spends an enormous amount of time (weeks, months or even years) grooming a child for future sexual abuse.
Maintain an open dialog with your children, and monitor the use of their cell phones. Positive parental involvement can prevent their children from being victims of crime.