“Don’t talk to strangers” is one of the first rules most parents teach their children.
But that rule is rarely followed on the World Wide Web.
The anonymity of the Internet often gives stalkers, sex offenders, scam artists and other criminals easier access to children, authorities say.
Here are some questions and answers about online safety.
Q: What are some signs that my child might be at risk for an online predator?
A: There are several signs to watch for. Among them:
• He or she spends large amounts of time on the Internet, especially at night. While predators are online around the clock, most work during the day and spend their evenings online trying to locate and lure children or seeking pornography, authorities say.
• You find pornography on your child’s computer.Sex offenders often supply porn as a way to strike up a conversation and seduce potential victims. Report any online child pornography to your Internet service provider and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 800-843-5678.
• Your child is receiving telephone calls from adults you don’t know, or is making calls, sometimes long distance, to numbers you don’t recognize. Online predators often engage in “phone sex” with children, or use the phone to set up an actual meeting for sex.
Some predators obtain toll-free 800 numbers so their potential victims can call without their parents finding out. Others tell children to call them collect.
• Your child tuns off the computer monitor or quickly changes the screen when you enter a room — a sign that he or she might be viewing or posting inappropriate material.
Q: What should you do if you suspect your child is communicating with a sex predator online?
A: Consider talking openly about your concerns and suspicions. Review the material on your child’s computer for pornographic or sexual communication. Monitor your child’s access to all types of electronic communications, including chat rooms, instant messaging, text messages on cell phones. Sex offenders usually meet potential victims in chat rooms, but continue to chat with them via e-mail or other form of private communication, authorities say.
Q: How can you minimize the chances of a predator or scam artist victimizing your child?
A: It’s all about communication.
Teach your child about the potential of online danger: Let them know that it’s important to never give out personal information over the Internet, such as their real name, address, telephone number, school, workplace and hometown. Tell them never to agree to a face-to-face meeting with an online friend without your permission. If they plan to meet an online friend, they should take a friend, and arrange the meeting in a public place.
• Ask your child to show you his or her favorite Web sites.
• Get to know your children’s online friends, just as you would their regular friends.
• Use parental controls provided by your internet service provider, and find out what online safeguards are in your child’s school, library and friends’ computers, places outside your normal supervision.
• Monitor chat room use.
• Maintain access to your children’s e-mail accounts, and randomly check their messages.
• Consider asking your child to sign an Internet safety pledge, an agreement between the two of you about what’s OK and what’s not in cyberspace.
“As long as the parents and child have an open communication, put the computer in a common area and follow some common sense tips …they shouldn’t have a problem,” said Detective Jason Glantz, with the Washington State Patrol’s Missing and Exploited Children Task Force.