WASHINGTON (BP)–Parents concerned about shielding their young children, teenagers and themselves against on-line sexual predators should investigate the risks and set standards for the family’s Internet use, suggests on-line child safety crusader Donna Rice Hughes.
Rice Hughes, who grew up as an active member of a Southern Baptist church, is the author of “Kids Online: Protecting Children in Cyberspace” (1998, Fleming H. Revell, a division of Baker Books). She has traveled the country and given more than 1,500 interviews trying to alert parents to the insidious threat posed by on-line pornography.
“Parents must realize they are the first and best line of defense in saving their children from the filth and degradation of the ultra hardcore pornography available on the Internet,” she said. As recently as last year, porn was the third-largest moneymaker on-line, behind only computer products and services and travel. Pornography is driving the development of the Internet in the same fashion as it drove the VCR and video market, Rice Hughes said.
In her book, Rice Hughes develops a three-prong approach to combating Internet porn, which involves shared responsibility among the public and the legal and technology communities.
The first tier, Rice Hughes writers, involves parents and children themselves, along with recognition of the problem by school and library officials who install filtered Internet service providers (ISP) that screen out porn from computers used by children.
The second tier entails technology companies involved in computer programming who can create improved ISP filters and software solutions. The third tier is law enforcement, which must be given the funds to train investigators and purchase equipment to track down and prosecute Internet porn purveyors.
Rice Hughes notes that parents can greatly reduce the threat to their children’s well-being from Internet porn by implementing a seven-step program:
1) Place the family computer in the family or living room, so that all usage of it by family members takes place in the open. That way parents can monitor their children’s on-line time while they themselves demonstrate safe Internet use. Parents should limit children’s on-line time in the same way they limit their children’s time spent watching TV or listening to music. “Unsupervised Internet surfing by children and teens is never a good idea,” Rice Hughes said.
2) Use the Internet together with your children and develop the same lingo they use to describe their on-line activities. If you don’t have Internet experience, sign up for a class, or have a friend or relative teach you the basics and walk you through on-line basics before giving your children Internet access.
3) Use an Internet service provider that filters out pornographic sites, controls e-mails sent to children by sending them first to the parents’ Internet address, and limits kids’ ability to download sites from the World Wide Web. Most ISPs have parental control functions that can limit children’s access to the Internet.
4) Make sure children never give out their names, addresses, phone numbers or load pictures of themselves on the Internet. Doing so encourages nothing but trouble as it opens the kids up to being contacted by anyone in the world with a computer, modem and Internet access.
5) In addition to frequently reminding your kids not to release personal information, tell them not to ever agree to meet someone they meet on-line face-to-face. Parents have reported children missing after such encounters. Several rapes have been reported along with a few abductions of gullible young children by on-line pen pals they had never before met and knew nothing about except via the Internet. Make sure your children understand that such people often are not who or what they claim to be; that most on-line predators will pretend to be someone near the child’s age to solicit personal information from them or to expose the child to e-mailed porn and/or sexual fantasy talk.
6) Make sure your child knows to report all offensive, threatening, sick and/or bizarre e-mail to you immediately. “Make sure they understand they must never respond to such e-mails,” Rice Hughes said. Often such e-mails are sent out in a broadcast mode in which thousands of on-line addresses are culled from teen chat rooms and other on-line sources by paid employees of pornography services. The idea is to lure your child to an on-line hardcore sex website, where they can be sold photographs and videos that they can download. On-line child molesters also employ such tactics in their attempt to desensitize your child as graphic sexual photos of sex between adults and children. They often then attempt to engage your child in lurid conversations of what they have seen and how they react to such stimuli.
7) Report all child porn and other illegal activities to either the CyberTipline at www.missingkids.com/cybertip or to the National Center for Missing or Exploited Children at 1-800-843-5678. Also contact your local police.