PROTECTING CHILDREN FROM INTERNET PREDATORS

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Detective Carey Etheredge is the director of the High Tech Crime Unit of the NPSO.

Protecting our children from the dangers of society is always in the front of minds of every parent.  When kids are young, your direct control and management of their lives are never farther away than the back yard or the day care center.  As adolescents become teens, they seek their independence from parents and want acceptance from their peers.

We all know how the internet, particularly social media, influences our young people and how social media is used to establish their identity.  In the process of building their own social brands, teens provide a great deal of personal and private information online for all to see, including those whose intentions are harmful and predatory.

According to the Crimes Against Children Research Center, one in seven teenagers who regularly log on to the Internet say they have received an unwanted sexual solicitation via the internet and 25% of children have been exposed to unwanted pornographic material online. Additionally, 75% of children online are willing to share personal information online about themselves and their family in exchange for goods and services such as coupon offers or free downloads.

It is imperative that parents in Natchitoches Parish take a proactive and managerial role in protecting our children from internet predators.  The very first thing you can do is to talk to your kids about the potential dangers that could occur online.  Discuss what it means to receive inappropriate messages or discussions from adults, including unnecessary compliments and accolades from strangers.

The next step a parent should take in protecting children on the internet is to install parental control software that can identify and block harmful content in chat rooms and on social media.  Set family rules regarding social media access.  Require from you kids that you are ‘friended’ on all of their accounts and make sure that they have not blocked your access to them.  Since most kids use tablets and mobile devices rather than laptops, make sure you know which apps your kids are using by reviewing all downloads on their devices.  Also note that many mobile gaming apps have chat and messaging capabilities.

Ensure that kids’ user accounts on social media do not include personal information such as full name, home address, school attendance, or where and when parents are working.

Lastly, the most important step in protecting teens from internet crime is to build trust with them so they will talk with you if there is an unsafe occurrence online.  Let them know that you are not trying to “ruin their social life” but to ensure they have a safe experience with their friends and not with strangers.

The Natchitoches Parish Sheriff’s Office has an investigative unit dedicated to protecting families from online crime and sexual predators.  Our High Tech Crime Unit works with schools, churches, and parents to help educate children about the safe use of the internet and to investigate online criminal activity in Natchitoches Parish.

Additionally, our Sex Offender Compliance Unit closely monitors all registered sex offenders in Natchitoches Parish to ensure they are complying with all applicable laws including prohibiting their use of social media, visiting schools, parks, or playgrounds, and ensuring they have notified us of their place of residence and employment.  We routinely visit their residence to ensure they are not participating in any of these activities.

We all want our kids to be protected from harm, whether it’s in the community or online. By staying observant, engaged, and involved with our kids’ daily lives, we will have a large impact on keeping them safe.

The Natchitoches Parish Sheriff’s Office wants to support your proactive efforts.  We are always available if you need assistance in educating your teens, preventing unwanted internet communications, or investigating potential harmful activity.  Our mission is to keep you and your family safe.