The Internet can be a scary place, especially for parents who are concerned about who their children may be communicating with over the Internet. As with all tools, a computer that is online must be used with adult supervision. The Merrimack Police Department wants to make all parents aware of possible child exploitation over the Internet.
The Internet has become the fastest growing medium through which people communicate. Coupled with the availability of "on-line" services and the myriad of Internet service providers, access to information - and people - has become easier and quicker than ever.
Children are more susceptible to exploitation, because they find the Internet and all that exists on line a fascinating place to explore and discover. They further can be lulled into thinking that because they are more or less removed from the personal contact most commonly associated with "child exploitation", that they are free from being taken advantage of.
Pedophiles, those people that have a sexual preference for children, now have the unique opportunity to literally contact your child while he or she uses the computer on line. The experienced pedophile will subtly lure children into trusting them, and then begin a campaign of desensitizing involving the sending of explicit messages and pictures over the Internet.
Because children are hesitant about reporting to their parents this kind of communication, parents need to be ever vigilant in supervising their children when they use the Internet or world wide web. The following are a few rules that parents should exercise to keep their children safe:
- Use the computer as a learning tool together. Be there when they need help, and as parents become involved with their children in sports activities, do so with computers.
- Become educated in how computers work, the way information is passed between computers, and how to prevent the possibility of your child becoming a victim on line.
- As you do with your children in teaching them about stranger safety, do the same for them with regard to computer / Internet safety. Explain to them what is acceptable communication, and what can or can't be sent or downloaded on their computer systems. Teach them to cease communication with someone that may be sending explicit messages or graphic images to your child.
- Keep the computer out in the open. A computer in a child's bedroom, for example, is an invitation for this sort of exploitation. If you can't see them while they are on line, someone could be attempting to seduce your child away.
- Lay down strict ground rules: never give out your name, address or telephone number, or send photographs without permission from parents. Never allow them to personally meet anyone they met on line without permission and supervision from the parent.
- Should you become aware of any of these activities that your child has been exposed to, contact your on-line service provider and your local police department immediately.
- Invest in software specifically designed to monitor graphic e-mail or prevent access to adult-oriented web sites. These software programs are relatively inexpensive, and are worth the extra money. Speak to a software sales associate for information on these programs.
There are a number of warning signs that parents should be aware of that may be indicative of your child engaging in this type of activity on line:
- The child uses the computer in a secluded area, and is apprehensive about letting a parent know what he / she is doing on line. They are also unwilling to speak to you about who they are talking to on line.
- The parent may find that the child is hiding computer disks in his / her room
- The parent may discover that the child is accumulating and receiving a number of graphic image files (those files with "GIF", "JPG", or "BMP", extensions).
- Parents may discover the child has been receiving explicit e-mail. He / she may have been saving the messages on disk, or in printed form.
The Merrimack Police Department aggressively investigates these types of crimes. If you or anyone you know are aware of this type of criminal activity, we urge you to contact your local or State police. For more information about these offenses, check out the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
For more information on internet safety and your child, please go to "The complete guide to protecting your childs safety on-line"