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Wednesday, July 24, 2024


The Answer: Good Parenting Internet Introduces Children to Strangers 4.12.2006

By Christine Cote

COURT HOUSE – If you have Internet access, “you have invited a world of strangers into your home.”
This is a statement by an inmate serving a 4-to-20 year sentence for corruption of a minor. His chilling statements were part of a video shown to parents and educators at a program on Internet safety April 6 at Rutgers Cooperative Extension Center here.
The convict also explained, “I can talk to your kid like I’m a 14 year old. If you’re in a chat room, your e-mail is available to anyone on there.”
The program was sponsored by the county Division of Youth and Family Services Advisory Board and presented by representatives from the county Prosecutor’s Office.
Captain of Detectives Marie Hayes, who has been with the office for over 25 years and specializes in child abuse and sexual assault cases, admitted she has been scared and intimidated by computers ever since she lost a four-page report.
“Our kids are not,” she said. “They can do everything you think you know and your kids know 100 times more.”
Some words of advice:
_ Computers should be in an open room, not in a child’s bedroom.
_ Parents should sit with their children to see what they are doing on the Internet.
_ Be aware it’s also available in libraries, friends’ homes, and now on cell phones.
_ Parents should know if a child is instant messaging or visiting chat rooms.
_ There is no legitimate reason for a child to have a webcam.
_ Be concerned if a child minimizes a screen when a parent enters the room.
_ Learn computer lingo: POS means parent over shoulder; first question asked when a child visits a chat room is usually ASL – age, sex and location
_ Warning signs of trouble: children no longer communicate about what they are doing on the computer, unexplained phone calls or absences from home.
“Prosecutor Robert Taylor said he wanted to concentrate on bullying and cyber bullying has brought on problems of its own,” said Hayes. “One of his priorities is, he wants parents to be educated.”
That was the reason she and detectives Bill Kirkbride and Michelle Linden, along with Bess Dyer, a computer specialist, and Claire McArdle, victims witness coordinator, have taken this show on the road.
They have started to do presentations in schools and gave one for parents in Dennis Township on March 28.
Hayes said that, as they plan for next year, they will concentrate on sixth to eighth grade students, since high school students are already too savvy about how to weave their way around the web.
That was an important part of their message: Start talking to your children while they are young about what type of information they should put out for others to see and about sharing sign-on names and passwords and what they are doing on the computer.
Getting them to show off what they know is the idea, like short cuts and tips they’ve learned.
Dyer said that a parent “can’t say you can’t ever use it, they’re here to stay.”
It is now estimated over 200 million homes nationwide have Internet access and close to 70 million have broadband or high-speed access, said Dyer.
“You’re children grew up with this,” said Dyer, noting that most parents are already way behind.
“Try to get the truth out of them,” she said about whether a child is instating messaging or visiting chat rooms.
“If you see a yellow guy,” said Dyer pointing to a Power Point projection of a computer screen, “you’re child is instant messaging.” She showed what the start-up page looks like.
She also said that parents should know if their child has a profile on a site like My Space.
Most give too much information, with photos, their age, where they live, where they go to school, what sports they like, she said.
If a predator sees it, he has everything he needs, she said. He will use that information in trying to engage a child to speak with him further and confide even more.
“Who’s on their buddy list?” she asked. It’s probably extensive because, she said, some have a contest for how many they have and it’s certainly more than a child could call friends.
But a real danger lies in chat rooms which is not a place for children, said Dyer. It’s a place where pedophiles hang around and a conversation can turn “sexual very, very quickly,” she said. Pictures passed round in chat rooms are “incredibly sexual,” Dyer said.
Two true stories were told in the video, one with a happy ending and one with a tragic ending.
Casey, a 13-year-old girl, would come home from school and go on line. She “talked” with soccerpro13, also known as Tom, who told her he was a young man from California.
Among other things, she confided in him that the best time to contact her was when she was home alone from 3 to 6 p.m.
Tom was really 31-year-old Michael from Delaware. He is also a pedophile and a predator. Luckily, Casey became concerned and told her parents when he tried to make arrangements to meet her.
The video not only showed his photo, but his computer room which was extremely cluttered with paper, including catalogues of information he had compiled from the net that contained childrens’ phone numbers and what he knew about them.
“The world has changed,” the narrator cautioned. With this easy access to children via the Internet, “pedophiles are dancing around.” It is estimated that the number of children targeted on line has grown into the thousands.
Hayes said at a recent school presentation, students were asked whether they would confide in their parents if they were uncomfortable with something that happened on line and a majority said no.
Why? Because they thought the parents would take the computer away, said Hayes. It’s important to build lines of communication with children and let them know that won’t happen if they confide in parents. Children should also know parents are watching, said Hayes.
Getting to know a child’s on-line friends, the same as a parent would require knowing regular friends, is another safeguard.
The tragic story involved a 13-year-old cheerleader from Connecticut who lived with her aunt after her parent’s divorce, who bought her a computer.
When she went to pick her niece up at the mall as she typically did, she was not there. After reporting her missing, she was finally able to obtain her AOL password and found out that she had been seeing a 24-year-old married man.
She was found strangled. Her aunt related that in four weeks her niece had gone from instant messaging to e-mailing to phone calling. These predators are successful because they feed into the child’s ego, tell them what they want to hear and seem to be able to pick up on the fact that the child doesn’t have anyone to confide in.
The Internet is also a place where they can develop a secret life, where they can explore different parts of their identify and even flirt.
They may hear warnings, but don’t think they apply to them.
Some children are not tricked into meeting someone unsavory; they go willingly. That’s why parents have to step in to protect them.
Has the Internet created pedophiles? There may be no way of knowing that, but one police officer quoted in the video said the net has allowed authorities to identify some predators that would not have been found otherwise.
The solution to this problem is not to remove modems nor is good parenting going to be replaced by software, he added.
There are programs that can be purchased to block access but Dyer and Hayes both emphasized that these are only effective until a child learns how to circumvent them and that still does not address access outside the home.
Contact Cote at (609) 886-8600 Ext 31 or:

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