What Parents Need to Know to Keep Their Kids Safe Online

Homeland Security Investigations of the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement is one of the country’s largest investigative agencies. One of their top priorities is enforcing laws that protect children from online sexual exploitation. ICE’s Operation Predator initiative has brought more than 8,000 arrests of predators targeting children in the span of one decade.

Millions of children are the victims of online sexual predators every year. ICE estimates that about 20 percent of young girls and 10 percent of young boys will be exploited before they are adults. Sexual exploitation leaves children with physical, emotional and psychological scars. Operation Predator spans internationally to exercise ICE resources and disciplines for tracking and identifying offenders. Agents are stationed everywhere, and they work with Interpol and other agencies to increase cooperation and effectiveness as part the Virtual Global Taskforce. The following steps show several ways parents can keep their children safer online.

Decide what types of sites are allowed and prohibited. Parents should read the sites their kids are interested in before allowing regular access. If the site’s privacy statement is not acceptable, parents should find a similar site with better provisions.

Block sites with inappropriate content. It is important for parents to learn what types of sites have inappropriate content. Newer platforms of Windows such as Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8 all have intuitive tools for this purpose. If children use xBox games or chatting features online, it is important to utilize all safety features for these options.

Set download limits. If children are allowed to freely download what they want, it can be hard to track files. Parents should require kids to ask permission before downloading anything. Shared music files, games and other items often contain spyware that could compromise the online safety of the entire family, so this should be a strict rule.

Set up different user accounts. By doing this, parents can use the administrator’s account and monitor other users’ activities. This will help children avoid the temptation of breaking rules, and it will help parents know when rules have been broken. It is also possible to set specific controls and safety settings with an administrator’s account.

Adjust Internet browser privacy levels. These can be customized on almost every type of browser. Some levels are preset and block certain types of sites. Parents can also manually enter specific sites they wish to block. For example, a parent who does not want children to access social media sites could block these specifically.

View activity logs regularly. To stay current with kids’ online activities, parents should view history logs frequently. Some kids may be savvy enough to delete their history, which is why parental controls used on an administrator’s account are valuable. These will show their tracks whether they erased them or not.

Use spyware detection programs regularly. Parents should invest in a good spyware detection and removal program. It should be run regularly to find and eradicate any spyware programs. These can sit on a computer undetected for long periods of time and are like virtual funnels that leak information to third parties. These parties may be hackers looking to steal money from bank accounts or child predators looking for addresses and online identities of children. For example, a predator could use stolen information to find a child’s online social media profile. Predators often make fake accounts to establish contact with children this way, so parents should be aware of this.

Talk to kids about online strangers. While this suggestion may seem ineffective to some parents who have rebellious teens, it is still important to do. If kids hear this enough, they will at least remember what they heard. Explain how predators use the Internet to exploit kids. Providing some real-life examples of cases where children were hurt by these predators can help kids understand just how serious the issue really is.

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