Dangers Lurk Online But Parents Can Help Protect their Children with Vigilance
From the Office of Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel
Children have more and more access to computers these days. In addition to more time spent on computers, the growing popularity of social networking sites has meant many young people stay on the computer for longer and longer periods of time.
While that's great because online resources can help with school work as well as provide time to chat with friends, children and teens must also be careful. Dangerous people have found ways to use the Internet to prey on kids. As Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel says, criminals have moved from the streets of our towns to the "information highway" along with the rest of us.
"I want to make sure children and teens know to be careful while they are on the Internet and that their parents and teachers have the tools to help their children and students be safe," McDaniel said. "This has been a focus of the Attorney General's Office for many years."
Some troubling statistics show the need for children and teens to follow basic safety tips while they are online:
- One of every seven youths between the ages of 10 and 17 years old report receiving unwanted sexual solicitations online, and only 25 percent of those solicitations are reported to adults or to law officers.
- Fourteen percent of 10th graders say they have agreed to meet an online stranger in person.
- Eleven percent of second- and third-grade students reported that they have been asked to describe private things about their body to someone online.
- Kids gather on "virtual" sites to send instant messages to friends. They also like to post photos of themselves and their friends, as well as share other information about themselves. The widespread use of smart phones has made access to these sites even easier for teens and children.
"Parents need to make sure their children know how to recognize and properly respond to threats they may receive while they think they are chatting with friends over the Internet," McDaniel said.
The Attorney General's Office has an active Community Relations Division that teaches Keys to Safety, a program about Internet safety. During the last school year, the Community Relations Division made 468 Keys to Safety presentations in schools across the state, and the educators in the office hope to make many more presentations this year. If you would like to have one of these educational programs at your school or office, please contact the Community Relations Division via ArkansasAG.gov or by calling (501) 682-1020.
The Attorney General's Office also created the Cyber Safety section on the office's website - ArkansasAG.gov/cybersafety. The site offers safety tips targeted to different age groups, information about the Keys to Safety program and links to many of the handouts used in the Keys to Safety presentations.
Also posted on the site is the toll-free phone number for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's CyberTipline - (800) 843-5678. The CyberTipline is the phone number that parents should call to report online predators or other online activity that makes them worry about the safety of their children.
For more information on the Attorney General's Office's efforts in the area of cyber safety, call the Community Relations Division of the Attorney General's Office at (501) 682-1020 or visit them online at ArkansasAG.gov.
The following are some safety tips for parents to reduce the risk of online dangers:
- Keep the family computer in a shared, well-used area of your home. That way, all household members can keep up with how much it is used as well as with which websites are visited.
- To help keep children from using home computers to visit improper websites, think about using a blocking or screening service. You can buy these services from your Internet provider or as software. Either way, these services can increase online security.
- Learn how social networking sites work before you or your child decides to join any of them. Some sites will
allow only a defined group of users to see posted information, while others allow anyone and everyone to view postings.
- Remind your children that once something is posted online, it cannot be removed. Even if information is deleted from a site, older versions exist on other people's computers. The best bet for controlling who gets to see posted information is to make sure it's on a site that only a select group gets to see.
- Tell children to never give out their telephone number, home or school address or other personal information.
- Tell children they should be wary of friends they only know online. And make sure your children know the dangers of meeting new online friends in person. Ask them to tell you if they ever become uncomfortable with an online friend's behavior.