South Brunswick Police are urging community members to be diligent when it comes to online safety for their children.
“Recently there have been some questions about age appropriate websites for younger users as well as information sharing on different websites," said Chief Raymond Hayducka. "We want to provide some guidelines for parents and students when using different sites."
In March 2012, a former middle school teacher in California was charged on suspicion of child pornography after he allegedly exchanged sexually explicit photographs online with a 13-year-old South Brunswick girl. According to the complaint, the teacher allegedly met the victim in an Internet chat room, where the two exchanged contact information. The man and the teen allegedly continued corresponding through online messaging services downloaded by the victim.
"The same advances in computer and telecommunication technology that allow our children to reach out to new sources of knowledge and cultural experiences are also leaving them vulnerable to exploitation and harm by computer sex offenders," said Det. Ron Seaman. "It is important for parents to proactively minimize the chances of their child becoming a victim of an online predator."
A survey from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children showed that 38 percent of 12 to 17-year-olds had posted self-created content like photos, videos, artwork, or stories online. A different survey showed that 46 percent of 10 to 17-year-olds admit to having given out personal information to someone they did not know, with 56 percent of 16 to 17-year-olds most likely to share personal information.
Police said that children often don’t realize that they can't “take back” online text and images they post, and they may not know individuals with access to the information can save and forward the postings to an unlimited number of users.
“Parents need to educate their children about potential on-line dangers, identify the signs that their children might be at risk online, and report suspicious activity to the police department," Det. Seaman said.
Parents are urged to:
• Monitor your children’s use of the Internet; keep your Internet computer in an open, common room of the house.
• Tell your kids why it’s so important not to disclose personal information online.
• Check your kids’ profiles and what they post online.
• Read and follow the safety tips provided on the sites.
• Report inappropriate activity to the website or law enforcement immediately.
• Explain to your kids that once images are posted online they lose control of them and can never get them back.
• Only allow your kids to post photos or any type of personally identifying information on websites with your knowledge and consent.
• Instruct your kids to use privacy settings to restrict access to profiles so only the individuals on their contact lists are able to view their profiles.
• Remind kids to only add people they know in real life to their contact lists.
• Encourage kids to choose appropriate screen names or nicknames.
• Talk to your kids about creating strong passwords.
• Visit social networking websites with your kids, and exchange ideas about acceptable versus potentially risky websites.
• Ask your kids about the people they are communicating with online.
• Make it a rule with your kids that they can never give out personal information or meet anyone in person without your prior knowledge and consent. If you agree to a meeting between your child and someone they met online, talk to the parents/guardians of the other individual first and accompany your kids to the meeting in a public place.
• Encourage your kids to consider whether a message is harmful, dangerous, hurtful, or rude before posting or sending it online, and teach your kids not to respond to any rude or harassing remarks or messages that make them feel scared, uncomfortable, or confused and to show you the messages instead.
• Educate yourself on the websites, software, and apps that your child uses.
• Don’t forget cell phones! They often have almost all the functionality of a computer
High Risk Websites and Cell Phone Applications for Children
1. Omegle: Omegle is a free online chat website that allows users to communicate with strangers without registering. The slogan of the chat-heavy site is “Talk to strangers!” as it deliberately sets two strangers together in a chat room where language is unfiltered and topics are wide open and often tilt toward sexual content. The users are not bound by parental controls and chats can be saved in logs and shared with anyone else in cyber world. Omegle can be accessed @ Omegle.com or by the Omegle application.
2. ChatRoulette: is an online chat website that pairs strangers from around the world together for webcam based conversations. Visitors to the website begin an online chat (text, audio, and video) with another visitor who is chosen at random. Imagine spinning a huge wheel, of which most of the options include sexual advances, discussions about disturbing topics, and explicit images and videos. Just like the name implies, users play a game of Roulette, randomly being assigned to a virtual stranger with whom they are to chat. Chats can be through text and web cameras.
3. Foursquare: is a social media site that encourages users to chat and actually meet in person. Users are categorized by location, meaning that not only do they give their addresses, but they update other users with their whereabouts via phone apps. The chats and exchanges are un-moderated, and often anything goes is the policy.
4. Our Teen Network: is a free social network for teens 13 to 19 which includes features such as video chats, links to adult-oriented dating sites, and unfiltered chat modes. Users’ profiles are visible to everyone unless your child specifically blocks it by changing profile settings. One of the chat rooms in this teen network is even a bar, indicative of the very non-teen atmosphere.
5. Snapchat: is one of the top free downloaded applications with users sending more than 20 million snaps every day. A user can send you a picture through the application and control how long you see it, up to 10 seconds. Many users think the picture disappears forever. But you can actually take a screen shot of the picture and it will stay in your photo library.
6. Instagram is an online photo-sharing and social networking service that enables its users to take pictures, apply digital filters to them, and share them on a variety of social networking services, such as media sites including Facebook or Twitter. It is a very popular application with 90 million plus users. If the user account is not blocked anyone can follow your child and steal their pictures.