Child Vulnerabilities in a Time of a Global Pandemic (Part 2)
Contributing Authors: Joyce R. King, Chief Counsel, Frederick County (MD) State’s Attorney’s Office & Nelson O. Bunn, Jr., Executive Director, NDAA
The Internet can be a critical tool for children during this coronavirus pandemic and the closure of educational institutions nationwide. They can use it to research school reports, communicate with teachers and other children, and play interactive games to pass the time of home confinement and social distancing.
However, the increased online access also comes with risks, such as inappropriate content, cyberbullying, and online predators. Children on the Internet are more than ever susceptible to online adult predators posing as children. The dark web accounts for only a fraction of reports of abuse; sexual child exploitation images are now almost entirely trafficked through tech companies based in the United States. Predators use platforms as mundane as Facebook Messenger, Microsoft’s Bing, and Dropbox.
In preparation and response to this vulnerability, law enforcement will be taking a proactive role in trying to protect our children on the Internet. In addition to proactive operations, the best tool we have to prevent Internet crimes against children is education. In collaboration with national taskforces, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, as well as private technology companies, prosecutors can disseminate information and resources to their communities that offer a variety of tools for learning and teaching children how to safely use the Internet.
Basic Guidelines for Children:
• Never post or trade personal pictures.
• Never reveal personal information, such as address, phone number, school name or location.
• Use only a screen name and don’t share passwords (other than with parents).
• Never agree to get together in person with anyone met online without parent approval and/or supervision.
• Never respond to a threatening email, message, post, or text.
• Always tell a parent or other trusted adult about any communication or conversation that was scary or hurtful.
Basic Guidelines for Parental Supervision:
• Use online protection tools by setting controls on childrens’ access to block adult materials and protect them from Internet predators. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and other software offers parent-control options, website restrictions and monitoring devices to track online activity.
• Spend time online together to teach your children appropriate online behavior.
• Keep the computer in a common area where you can watch and monitor its use, not in individual bedrooms. Monitor any time spent on smartphones or tablets.
• Bookmark childrens’ favorite sites for easy access.
• Check your credit card and phone bills for unfamiliar account charges.
• Find out what, if any, online protection is offered by your child’s school, after-school center, friends’ homes, or any place where children could use a computer without your supervision.
• Take your child seriously if he or she reports an uncomfortable online exchange.
• Call the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at (800) 843–5678 if you’re aware of the sending, use, or viewing of child pornography online. Contact your local law enforcement agency or the FBI if your child has received child pornography via the Internet.
• Watch for warning signs of a child being targeted by an online predator:
- Spending long hours online, especially at night
- Phone calls from people you don’t know
- Unsolicited gifts arriving in the mail
- Your child suddenly turning off the computer when you walk into the room
- Withdrawal from family life and reluctance to discuss online activities
• Talk to your children! Keep an open line of communication and make sure that they feel comfortable turning to you when they have problems online.