Would it surprise you to learn that one of the most dangerous threats facing parents today comes from home computers, laptops, tablets, smart phones and video game systems?
There are a variety of issues that parents need to be aware of in order to be in a better position to protect their children.
The following are some examples of threats to the safety of children that law enforcement is observing.
. Sexting: Teens sometimes engage in an activity known as "sexting," where they will text or email nude photographs or videos to each other. It is not unusual for a relationship to sour and for the photographs to be posted publicly in an attempt to bully or humiliate the victim. Often, the exposed teen is too embarrassed to tell their parents and the bullying continues. This humiliation is often so unbearable for a child that it can tragically lead to severe depression, drug abuse and even suicide.
. Child Pornography: It is not uncommon for teenagers to share information with each other about pornographic websites, which they can easily access after lying about their age. These sites often have "video chat rooms," which allows the teen to videoconference with the "adult entertainer." These adult entertainers may even coax teenagers into performing a sex act, which can be covertly recorded using the teen's own webcam, which may then be sold to child pornographers.
. Pedophile deception: Adult pedophiles sometimes masquerade as teenagers in an effort to gain the trust of unsuspecting teens. They use fake photos and profiles and work over weeks, even months, to build trust with the teen. Pedophiles are patient and may cultivate relationships with dozens of teens simultaneously. As the relationship progresses, the pedophile will begin requesting photos and will encourage sexually graphic conversations. Keep in mind the teenager believes they are falling in love with someone their age. The pedophile will eventually reveal his real age and will demand sexual contact. The victim's whole world is suddenly turned upside down and they don't know where to turn. If the teen does not comply with the demands, the pedophile will threaten to ruin the teen's life by sharing the explicit messages and photographs with their friends, their parents and school. It is not unusual for a teen in this situation to succumb to the pressure and threats or become suicidal, or both.
There is nothing sadder for a law enforcement officer investigating a teen suicide to determine the teen felt driven to suicide because they had made "a terrible mistake" and were too embarrassed to approach their parents for help.
What can we do as parents to better protect our children? We can continue to educate ourselves about existing Internet threats.
We can talk honestly to our children about the threats and make sure they know they can come to us about anything that bothers them.
We can place our computers in a visible area of the home, which will discourage children and teens from visiting inappropriate websites.
We can create rules for Internet use such as when and where Internet access is allowed.
We can ask ourselves if providing our children portable devices such as laptops, tablets and smart phones with Internet access is really necessary.
We can ensure we are aware of all websites our children visit and that we have full access and knowledge of all passwords our children use for access.
We can maintain awareness of all means of communication to include our children's gaming systems (ie: PS3, Xbox, etc.) and we can learn how to navigate these systems to scan for inappropriate material or access.
There are software products on the market, which can help you determine if your child has been observing inappropriate images on a computer.
If you would like a copy of the Sheriff's Office Cyber Safety video with investigative software, contact the Brevard County Sheriff's Office at (321) 264-5201 or email email@example.com, and we will mail you a copy at no cost.
Jack Parker is the sheriff of Brevard County.