The Internet can be a wonderful resource for kids. They can use it to research school reports, communicate with teachers and other kids, and play interactive games. Kids who are old enough to punch in a few letters on a keyboard can literally access the world.
But that access can, as recent local events have shown, be very dangerous.
For example, the Murrieta Police Department recently arrested two juvenile males last month after a plot to cause damage to Vista Murrieta High School as well as staff and students was uncovered after one of the students posted a chat conversation with an anonymous east coast recipient.
The recipient reported the threat to the FBI, who in turn notified Murrieta Police and school district officials, according to district spokesperson Karen Parris.
“One of the most attractive things about the Internet to many people is its perceived anonymity,” said Parris explained. “A lot of people get onto the Internet and think that they can be totally anonymous, but that’s not necessarily true. There are ways of getting around safeguards, so it is important to protect yourself and make sure youngsters are aware of the dangers as well as how to prevent being victimized.”
According to Parris, Murrieta police officers notified school district officials of the threat Aug. 8.
The boys, both 15-year-old Murrieta residents, were arrested August 15 and booked into Southwest Juvenile Hall in French Valley on suspicion of conspiracy to commit murder, Murrieta police Lt. Tony Conrad stated in a news release provided by the department.
Another story to demonstrate the frightening influence the Internet can have on youngsters is the recent case of a 15-year-old Chula Vista boy who died after attempting to mimic a YouTube video.
The teen succumbed to injuries he received after he fell onto a drinking glass, puncturing his neck while playing a pass out game with friends in his bedroom.
According to Federal Bureau of Investigation guidelines, these are a few warning signs that your child might be engaged in dangerous online activity:
Your child spends large amounts of time on-line, especially at night:
Most children that fall victim to computer-sex offenders spend large amounts of time on-line, particularly in chat rooms. They may go on-line after dinner and on the weekends. They may be latchkey kids whose parents have told them to stay at home after school.
You find pornography on your child’s computer:
Pornography is often used in the sexual victimization of children. Sex offenders often supply their potential victims with pornography as a means of opening sexual discussions and for seduction.
Your child receives phone calls from men you don’t know or is making calls, sometimes long distance, to numbers you don’t recognize:
While talking to a child victim on-line is a thrill for a computer-sex offender, it can be very cumbersome. Most want to talk to the children on the telephone. They often engage in “phone sex” with the children and often seek to set up an actual meeting for real sex.
Your child receives mail, gifts, or packages from someone you don’t know:
As part of the seduction process, it is common for offenders to send letters, photographs, and all manner of gifts to their potential victims. Offenders have even sent plane tickets in order for the child to travel across the country to meet them.
Your child turns the computer monitor off or quickly changes the screen on the monitor when you come into the room:
A child looking at pornographic images or having sexually explicit conversations does not want you to see it on the screen.
Your child becomes withdrawn from the family:
Computer-sex offenders will work very hard at driving a wedge between a child and their family or at exploiting their relationship. They will accentuate any minor problems at home that the child might have. Children may also become withdrawn after sexual victimization.
Your child is using an on-line account belonging to someone else:
Even if you don’t subscribe to an on-line service or Internet service, your child may meet an offender while on-line at a friend’s house or the library. Most computers come preloaded with on-line and/or Internet software. Computer-sex offenders will sometimes provide potential victims with a computer account for communications with them.
To learn more, visit the FBI website and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Michael J. Michelson, Jr. is a local writer and new contributor to SWRNN.