Your child starts chatting online with a cool new friend his age he met on Facebook. He discovers that they have a lot of similar interests. They start sending each other messages regularly and he shares a lot of information about himself with his new friend: where he goes to school, which awesome house he lives in, when his next soccer match is. Little does he know that he is not actually messaging anther little boy but in fact a child predator, posing as a young boy.
The Internet Today
With the internet age, children have amazing new resources to communicate, make friends, gather information, and see the world at the touch of a fingertip. There are wonderful reasons why your child should be an internet user. However with the virtual exposure to the world comes the increased exposure to world dangers. Children are sharing an exceptional amount of information about themselves online, especially on social networking sites, which makes them more susceptible to crimes such as bullying and child enticement or to having sensitive information about them published. In 82% of online sex crimes against minors, the perpetrator used the child's social networking site to learn about their likes and dislikes and 65% of sex offenders used the child's social networking site to find out their address and school. 43% of teens report that they have experienced cyber bullying in the past year. 20% of teens have posted nude or semi-nude photos or videos of themselves online which immediately puts them at risk of that content being shared, exposing them intense humiliation and ruined reputations. 
What is the Issue?
It is not just the risk of being the victim of a crime or bullied that is of concern. Children have increased access to violent and pornographic images and videos with the invent of the internet. Porn sites often trick children into opening a sexually explicit sites by linking their sites with harmless and common internet searches. For example, someone may be doing an online search for dirt bikes or a popular cartoon character and a porn site may “pop-up” once the innocent site is opened. Worse, sometimes porn sites are “mousetrapped” so that when users try to close the site, they are actually directed to another porn site. 34 % of youth who use the internet were subject to unwanted exposure to sexually explicit material while another 13% of youth visit x-rated sites on purpose.  Popular online games are also treasure troves of violent images and sexually explicit scenes.
Although it would be great if our kids told us everything, don't always count on them to tell you about what they are up to online. It is up to you to keep track of their internet use and behavior. Keep a record of their e-mail addresses, logins, passwords and display names, which are recorded already in your computer files. Learn how to use the social media sites that your child uses and keep up to date with the privacy features of these sites, making sure they have been enacted. Be aware of your child's behavior by “friending” them on Facebook.  They may die of embarrassment, but in this way you can keep track of what information they are sharing and more importantly with whom. It is also your responsibility to become proficient enough with your computer to know how to use filters, parental controls and safety software such as malware removers and anti-viruses.  If you don't know how to do these things, have an older teen show you how. In addition to these safety protocols, put the computer in a common space in the house, especially with young children, rather than in private areas and set up agreed upon family internet rules.
Explain to your child the dangers of the internet.
It is absolutely imperative that they understand that what information they share about themselves online is public, even if it is intended to be private as it can be shared with anyone. Once something is online, it is very difficult to get it removed. Therefore children should never use their real names, post phone numbers or addresses and limit photo sharing. Children should never, ever share nude or explicit photos or videos of themselves or agree to meet a person they do not know. 
Encourage your child to tell you if they have been solicited.
If they are behaving secretly about their online use, become upset when internet access is denied, start receiving phone calls or packages from someone you do not know, and begin downloading pornography it is fair to suspect that they may be engaging in conversations with a predator. 
The best way to protect your child from the wild world of the internet is to talk to them and encourage communication. They may not want to tell you everything they are doing, (would you have wanted to when you were young?), but if you are actively participating your child's life, perhaps they will feel safe enough to tell you when something has made them uncomfortable online. There is a bigger picture when looking at the habits of your child online. For more related info keep reading.
 [http://www.internetsafety101.org/snsdangers.htm ]
[“Online Victimization of Youth: Five Years Later” http://www.missingkids.com/en_US/publications/NC167.pdf ]
 [A Parents’ Guide to Social Networking Websites http://www.ag.idaho.gov/publications/internetSafety/ParentsGuideToSocialNetworkingWebsites.pdf ]
 [Internet Safety http://www.atg.wa.gov/InternetSafety/FamiliesAndEducators.aspx#.Uhvq1z-t0lI ]
 [Internet Safety for Teens http://www.education.com/reference/article/Ref_Teens_Internet/ ]
Christie Hunter is registered clinical counselor in British Columbia and co-founder of Theravive. She is a certified management accountant. She has a masters of arts in counseling psychology from Liberty University with specialty in marriage and family and a post-graduate specialty in trauma resolution. In 2007 she started Theravive with her husband in order to help make mental health care easily attainable and nonthreatening. She has a passion for gifted children and their education. You can reach Christie at 360-350-8627 or write her at christie - at - theravive.com.