Dark alleys on the Internet 

Education key to keeping kids safe from on-line predators

Most parents believe that when their kids are home they are safe. But that is an outdated and even dangerous idea.

Why?

The Internet has entered our homes and brought with it a new set of dangers that parents must guard against.

"I ask parents, ‘Would you let your kid walk down a dark alley in downtown Vancouver by themselves?’" said RCMP Cst. Jennifer Freeman, who talks to parents and kids on Internet safety from her base in Richmond.

Well letting your kids surf the Internet and use chat rooms unsupervised is no less dangerous, she said.

Alarming statistics supports her fears. The Media Awareness Network found recently that half of all kids using the Internet are unsupervised most of the time and that fewer than two out of every 10 parents talk to their kids about what they are doing.

According to the Canada Safety Council more than half of all teens visit private and adult chat rooms. The same proportion of teens report that they have received pornographic spam.

One in five 11-12 year olds reported receiving e-mail messages that have bothered or frightened them. Of those, only 20 per cent told an adult.

Of particular concern to police and parents are on-line predators. Forty-three per cent of teen’s aged 15 to 17 have been asked by someone they have met on the Net to meet in person. Of those, one in five accepted, and of that group, one out of five went alone.

Net contacts can start innocently enough. For example, kids goofing around and excited by the technology can decide to set up their own web pages. Along with some personal information, on goes some family photos, pictures of friends taken at school, and maybe some links to other favourites sites.

"That’s just a white pages for pedophiles," said Freeman referring to this type of website.

Within minutes a predator can use a search engine like Google to find out where the child lives and maybe even decide to target the kid, she said.

Most people are aware of the dangers, but many fail to act on them. That was the case initially for one Whistler mom.

She knew her child and a friend were working on a web page about themselves, and she considers herself well educated on the dangers of the Net. But alarm bells didn’t sound until she realized that the information could easily be used to identify her child.

"After this had been going on for a couple of weeks one of the other moms phoned me and said the school principal had talked to the (kids) at school when they were working on their website," she said. "We both pinched ourselves and thought oh my gosh, we let this happen."

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