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Children and Computers: The Hidden Dangers

With the ever increasing development of computer technology and the increasing number of people who are computer literate, it is much more likely that our children will be victimized or exploited in a computer environment.

The internet allows people worldwide to communicate anonymously in a virtually uncontrolled electronic world.  If your child has internet access at home, at school, the library, or at a friend's house, please take some time to review this guide.

Just as we tell our children not to talk to strangers and watch and direct where they go and whom they meet in the "real world," we need to be aware of the dangers in the electronic world and exercise these same cautions.  Children and young adults are targeted every day by predators using technology to reach their victims. 

Tips for Internet Safety

Advise your children to observe the following safety rules whenever they are online.  Remind them that no matter how safe or friendly an online contact seems, there is always the potential for danger.

  • Never give out any personal information about yourself, particularly real names, addresses, phone numbers, school or team information, financial information, etc., to anyone that you meet online.

(The above is not meant to preclude giving your name, phone, address, and credit card number to online services that often require them to open an account. You may also order services and products or conduct financial transactions online, and we are not discouraging this.  What we are concerned about is giving personal and credit information to people you meet in chat rooms, via sites like MySpace and Facebook, or email and instant messaging.  Consider online communication as similar to using the telephone: When you call a business and order products by phone, you know who you are calling and can feel reasonably secure in giving them your credit card number.  When they originate the call, you have no way of knowing if you are talking to a legitimate business or to a crook.)

  • Do not fill in the "Member Profile" section available when using online services where you fill in your name, address, age, school, sex, interests, etc. This may allow other users to access to your personal information.  If you want to type something in the profile, use your screen name (not your real name) and interests. Skip the address and other personal information.
  • Use an email address and user name that does not include identifying information.  "LaTasha13soccergirl" provides far too much personal information; use something more generic ("loveschocolate" could be anyone!)
  • Be aware of undesirable chat rooms and blogs (bulletin boards). Use the "parental discretion" options when necessary to block these areas.
  • Do not respond to anyone who leaves you obnoxious, sexual, or menacing email, and block the sender from your account. 
  • Report all electronic harassment or abuse to Police, as well as to the site webmaster.  There is usually a place within the site where this type of activity can easily be reported.
  • Never set up face-to-face meetings with anyone you have met online.  Ignore requests for a "private chat" unless you know the person making the request.

Warning Signs of Possible Computer Crime Problems

(Note: These are warning signs only and are meant as warnings of possible problems, not evidence of a problem.)

  • Computer addiction - withdraws from friends, family, "lives on the computer," and may lose interest in social activities.
  • Lack of interest in self and appearance, grooming and hygiene, or indications of lack of sleep, sudden drop in school grades, and unauthorized absences from classes.
  • Names on communication programs that appear to be pornographic, rude, or vulgar in nature.
  • Use of the computer to scan or run telephone or credit card numbers.

What You Can Do to Protect Your Children

  • Learn about computers/mobile devices. Take a course at your local community center, college, or tech school so you will have at least an understanding about what your children are doing.
  • Talk to your kids about their use of the internet and the dangers online. You are already talking about school, sex, drugs, strangers, gangs, and violence. Computers and mobile devices can involve all these problems and they can happen in your home without your knowledge.
  • Be involved with your kids in using the internet.  This is a great opportunity to spend time with your child, and gives you the opportunity to learn about their interests.  If they like games, try playing the games with them.  If they are using the computer to do homework, join them in the room and read the newspaper while they work.
  • Keep desktop computers and mobile device use in "common" areas of your home, NOT in the child's bedroom.  For laptops and other internet capable electronics, enforce a house rule of "no use unless it's in the main living area" of your home.  This allows you to monitor online activity.  
  • Consider implementing an "internet usage contract" with your child (samples can be found on the internet).  This contract can be established between the parent and child, so everyone is clear on what the family rules are - both at home and away from home - and the consequences if the contract is broken. 
  • Control all internet activity.  Monitor which sites your child visits, chat groups they belong to, their Facebook page, etc.
  • Make sure that access to the internet at your children's school is monitored by adults.
  • Know your children's friends and their parents.  If your child's friend has internet access at home, talk to their parents about the rules they have established.  Find out if the children are monitored while they are online.
  • Make sure that your child's school has an internet use policy.  This policy should include a list of acceptable and unacceptable activities or resources, information on "netiquette" (etiquette on the internet), consequences for violations, and a place for you and your child to sign. Your family can design its own policy for your home computer.

Special Note: Do not make the mistake of thinking that the activities mentioned above are too "high tech" for your own child. Most parents are unaware of how much their children really know when it comes to computers and mobile devices.

Email the Crime Prevention Coordinator