An alarming new study came out last week, reporting that 73% of children are exposed to online pornography by age 12. Fifteen percent of teenagers surveyed reported seeing porn at age 10 or younger!
Fox News further reported on the Common Sense social study: “41% of the teenagers surveyed said that they have seen pornography during the school day, and 44% reported viewing porn on devices that are school-owned.
“When asked about the type of pornography consumed, 52% of teenagers said that they have seen ‘violent pornography.’ Additionally, only 33% of respondents reported watching ‘pornography in which someone asks for consent.’
“45% of the teenagers surveyed ‘agreed that pornography gives helpful information about sex,’ and 27% of those surveyed agree that it ‘accurately shows sex.’
“‘The results of this research confirm a very important point: It’s time for us to talk about pornography. We need to consider conversations with teens about pornography the same way we think of conversations about sex, social media, drug and alcohol use, and more. Kids can and will be exposed to pornography one way or another, often before a caregiver has a chance to tackle the subject,’ Common Sense founder and CEO James Steyer said about the survey’s results.”
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What makes the Common Sense survey even more alarming is that we all know that the internet has become the sexual predators’ playground. What’s truly tragic is that, despite that knowledge, too many parents and guardians are still allowing these cyber criminals and hooligans into their homes by not monitoring their children’s online activity.
I’m not just talking about unprotected smartphones and computers without anti-porn defenses. Often overlooked today are social media platforms where predators prey the most, and they’re finding more and easier ways to penetrate and violate online platforms.
Even more difficult to monitor is when children are allowed to use their friends’ electronic gadgets. Unbeknown to most, new methods of assault such as drive-by cyber shootings through unencrypted wireless access points (known as war-spamming) are being used to bombard you and your child’s email with pornographic advertisement.
Many years ago, there was a series of articles put out by now-retired FBI cyber expert Arnold Bell on protecting children. I know the FBI has got some bad press the last few years because of a few bad apples, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that there’s still great men and women on the force, just as those at our borders, ports and your local law enforcement agencies.
Bell did a great job giving practical wisdom with “Internet Safety for the Wired Generation.” His advice still stands and is even far more needed today. He summarized:
“Six out of 10 kids online have gotten an email or instant message from a perfect stranger … and more than half have written back. One in three kids has been aggressively solicited to meet their ‘cyber friend’ in person. [Up from one in five, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children] One in four kids, ages 10-17, has been exposed to unwanted [unsolicited] sexual material online.”
Cyber-crimes against children are so extensive in recent years that the Department of Justice reported to Congress in April of 2016: “Our Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force Program has facilitated the training of more than 500,000 law enforcement professionals since its inception, providing valuable techniques related to investigating, prosecuting, and preventing technology-enabled crimes against children. Just last year, 61 coordinated task forces representing more than 3,500 federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies conducted more than 54,000 investigations that resulted in the arrest of more than 8,500 individuals. And we are aggressively confronting evolving threats online by prosecuting those who use the so-called ‘Dark Net’ in the service of child pornography and child sex trafficking, and by seeking to work closely with the private sector to ensure that state-of-the-art encryption technology is no shield for criminal activity.”
The FBI’s Innocent Images National Initiative in particular is on a mission to train the world how sexual predators disguise themselves online in order to lure and prey upon children.
So, what can you do as parents and guardians? The first step toward better protection is to accept that, if cyber-crimes and a host of online violations can happen to others’ children, they can happen to yours. It’s time for us to wake up from our online slumber and denial, and protect our children from the corruption of internet intruders.
The FBI gave these “signs your child is at risk” (Are any of these characteristics of your child’s conduct or behavior?):
- Your child spends large amounts of time online or on a smartphone, especially at night.
- Your child turns the phone or computer monitor off or quickly changes the screen when you come into the room.
- Your child becomes withdrawn from the family.
- You find pornography on your child’s computer.
- Your child is using an online account belonging to someone else.
- Your child receives phone calls from men you don’t know or is making calls, sometimes long distance, to numbers you don’t recognize.
- Your child receives postal mail, gifts, or packages from someone you don’t know.
Next, do the same thing that you would do if a predator were trying to break into your house. Reinforce or establish new boundaries or entry places. Build up the borders. Train your children what to do. At any cost, stop the intruders. Protect the children!
Here are some practical steps you can take to do just that:
- Read “A Parent’s Guide To Internet Safety” on the FBI website to become even more familiar with online crime and how to prevent it. Further resources for parental help with various electronic media can also be found at the website for Obscenity Crimes.
- Don’t allow, limit or consider removing smartphone (use) from your younger children. If they need a phone for any reason, consider an “old style” phone that literally is used only for calls and not internet use.
- Review what is on your child’s computer and other electronic devices. If you don’t know how, ask a friend, co-worker, relative, or other knowledgeable person. Require access to your child’s social media, emails, etc., and inform him or her of the online dangers and how to spot them.
- If your phones and computers are not protected by anti-porn software, don’t wait another day to download an app or software on them. Here the Top Ten services, which can filter peer-to-peer communications, emails, instant messages and other chat room exchanges.
- Introduce your children to Web Wise Kids, which seeks to equip and empower young people to make wise online choices.
- Put your kids’ or the family computer in the room where you spend most of your at-home time. If your child uses a laptop or smartphone, make sure he or she uses it in your full view of the screen.
- Use the Caller ID service to determine who is calling your child, and call your phone company to purchase the option to block your family’s numbers from appearing on others’ Caller ID.
- Report all online obscene criminal activity. Information submitted to Obscenity Crimes are forwarded to U.S. Attorneys in the 50 states and to the Justice Department’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section in Washington.
- If you suspect your underage youngster has received pornography, been sexually solicited, or is in communication with a child predator, talk openly to him or her about it. If your suspicions prove to be true, contact your local FBI office, make an online report to the Cyber Tipline, or call by phone at 1-800-843-5678.
- You can also check the National Sex Offender Public website or your individual state’s Sex Offender Registry websites to see the names and locations of cyber-pedophiles in your area and beyond.
The truth is that smartphones and the internet are a huge blessing and a huge curse. It’s a fantastic and quick source for keeping in touch with loved ones, disseminating or reading news, reading commentary, sending and receiving communications, exchanging goods and services, etc., but its corruptive purposes run as deep and wide as its benefits.
As agent Arnold Bell once said it, “The internet is a great place, but there are certain parts of town you don’t want to be.”
Personally, I think it’s time we ran the cyber criminals and hoodlums out of town for good!
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