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Chapter Eighteen: Tips for Children to be Safe from Explicit Content and on Social Networking Sites
Give your kids tips and tricks about the dangers of these websites and how to protect themselves in simple ways. Kids can become accustomed to surfing the Web with these tips in mind, and even learn to protect themselves naturally and unknowingly!
Help You Child Stay Safe on Social Networks
One of the most important tips for kids using social networking sites is to never post their personal information online. Sexual predators and online criminals almost always get the information they need to commit these crimes from the personal information social networkers post on their pages. For example, robbery suspects know when families are out of town if parents or children post statuses or pictures of them all away, kids also tell their friends to come over for parties and provide their address, and they may even send credit card and social security information over the web to friends or strangers, who are likely to be identity thieves disguising themselves behind the computer screen. Most of these instances of kids providing personal information on the Web are not intentional, so it is important to teach your kids be aware of the consequences of doing so.
With the increase in popularity of communicating and constantly staying "in touch" with friends online, the age-old conception of striving to be "popular" and have more "friends" may actually be more dangerous now than ever before. By communicating with people that your kids may or may not have met, just to have more friends, your children may be placing themselves in dangerous situations. These people that your children are communicating with may be disguising themselves as people your child’s age and sex. Explain to your child that no one, especially the "friends" they meet online, should know any of their personal information, such as full name, passwords, phone number, address or parent’s names. Teaching them early on that they can only browse age-appropriate sites, and that they can’t talk to anyone they have never met in person can help protect them from future harm.
Another good tip for kids who are active online is for them to create safe screen names. Encourage your children to think about the impression their screen name gives off to others. They should steer away from names that reveal how old they are, where they live, their gender, or any sexual innuendos. Something as simple and "innocent" as a screen name can give away too much information to the wrong people. Support your children in creating safe, fun and creative screen names no matter the website or purpose – it can save them in the long run.
Setting a good example for your kids can be a good ever-lasting tip to teach them. Sometimes, simply telling them or educating them on the dangers of chatting with strangers is not enough. Kids learn by example, so keeping from posting violent or explicit content, and/or talking to strangers yourself is educational for your kids. Another trap that parents themselves get caught in is completing surveys and signing up for giveaways that are really just gimmicks to obtain people’s personal information. Most of these, usually pop-up ads, are plain attempts to gain access to personal information, and a lot of people fall for it. First, it is important to understand that these are mostly fake, and parents should inform their children about such tricks. Kids are even more susceptible to these stunts than adults, so tell your kids it is best to close the window and not participate, no matter how good the prize is.
Being a role model includes not just watching what you post online, but also what you say and do with others. If your children see you posting and/or talking to people who are posting rude things, your child will think it is okay to do the same or be the victim of the same.
Cyber bullying is growing to be a serious issue for children and teens online. Do not post any harmful or rude remarks on the Internet, and do not associate with those who do. If your child begins to feel even the slightest bit uncomfortable or upset, it is a good idea for them to inform you, and stop communicating with those people. Encourage your child to never continue talking to someone who is hurting his or her feelings, and/or someone who is attempting to spread rumors about them. Tell them that that kind of behavior is never okay and should never be tolerated.
Pay attention to your child’s time spent on the computer. Set time limits together with them on how long they can be online for, so that it doesn’t get in the way of homework and/or friends and family life. Establish "power downs" when together, meaning putting all electronic devices away for certain period of time. Insist that meals, especially family meals, and other family outings be technology free as often as possible. Set boundaries for when to be online and when not to be, which can help eliminate the risk of children being bullied and/or groomed by a sexual predator. It also gives both parents and children the opportunity to begin and maintain open relationships and dialogues between one another to protect your children at home, at school, and online.
The Internet provides easy access for people of all ages to explore hundreds of thousands of websites that suit a large variety of interests. Unfortunately, what can be good for some may also be dangerous for others. For children, the Internet can be extremely graphic and can expose them to many things parents desperately try to shelter them from on a daily basis. This chapter will explore how to keep your kids safe from seeing the things they shouldn’t be seeing.
Monitoring devices and parental control software
As discussed earlier, many search engines offer filtering options that are built for the sole purpose of protecting children from explicit content. The Internet is a wide arena for anything and everything, so it is not surprising that filters exist to block explicit and graphic content out for certain groups of people, namely children. Simply clicking "turn filter on" can save you from being worried about what your child is looking at online. Beyond turning on filtering and parental settings on the computer, there are monitoring devices and software that actively monitor and block certain sites from being accessed.
Since studies have shown that children who are exposed to violence may become more aggressive later on, it is important to talk to your children about violent content online and block it as much as possible. Blaming the creator and the advertisers of this media is not the answer. Taking proactive approaches to this issue is the best thing that parents can do to protect their children from violence. In addition to housing the computer in a neutral space, parents can check the browser history after their children use the computer, and are encouraged to have a talk with their children if they see they are visiting suspicious or inappropriate sites.
Violent and graphic language is not thought to be the biggest threat to children using the Internet – pornography is. Due to this, violence and vulgar language are less monitored and more widely available for children to see and hear in movies, television, and in everyday life. On the other hand, sexual content usually gets a "rating" on a scale that warns just how explicit and/or violent the content is, alerting parents and children what is appropriate and not for certain ages. Pornography in certain movies and on websites have ratings too, such as "NC-17," wherein children are absolutely not allowed to view the content, unlike other ratings that still allow children to view content when accompanied by an adult.
As children get older and get more computer savvy, they learn how to get around the software, and can even start to access these websites on their smart phones or tablets. Some downsides of these devices include the limited amount of Internet experience someone needs in order to learn how to deactivate the software, the uncertainty of filtering out what actually needs to be filtered, and lastly, the lack of flexibility with these programs. Younger children need more protection than older children, but not all programs give you the ability to filter by age or specific content. If you begin to notice suspicious behavior such as clearing Internet history, spending excessive time online, closing tabs when you come near, or getting defensive when asked about their Internet etiquette, it is encouraged that you talk to your children about their computer habits. Take an active role in finding out what your child is viewing and accessing on the World Wide Web. The Internet is a vast sphere of influence, so being proactive in your child’s life is essential for their safety. Talk to them, find out what is going on in their lives, find out what they are curious about, answer any of their questions and be supportive of their interests. Review the following checklist from Internet Safety 101.