The internet has sometimes been compared to the wild, wild west. Part of the reason for that is because in those early days of the frontier, the law was in place to protect citizens of the land but in many cases, it was hard to enforce and criminals ran free to defy laws without fear of being stopped.
When it comes to protecting our kids who go online, in a lot of ways it is the wild west out there. Are there laws on the books to protect our children from being assaulted by internet criminals who would do them harm? Of course there are. But enforcing those laws and catching every bad person who your child might encounter out there in cyberspace is a task that law enforcement is working hard to conquer. But they have not conquered it yet. So cyberspace is in many ways, an untamed frontier.
While we don’t want to go to the days of the wild west where vigilantes roamed the land enforcing brutal justice on criminals, we have to do something. The stories we hear on television and read in the newspapers about children being seduced and abducted right out from under the noses of parents are deeply frightening.
This may be the most troubling thing about cyber criminals who would harm our children. Because the internet is in our homes and even now spreading to the phones and electronic devices of our children, the access of strangers to our kids is virtually unlimited. Kids can get into chat rooms, use social networking services like MySpace and view all kinds of filth online all while mom and dad are just a few yards away watching the news. Because of this unprecedented access, new strategies have to be developed for law enforcement to protect our kids but also so we can partner with them to stop these evil people who would use this wonderful tool of the internet for evil purposes.
At a public level, we want to give our police and law enforcement officials all the help we can to crack down on cyber stalkers so the word goes out to such criminals that it is possible to be caught stalking children and if you are caught, it will be a harsh penalty for this kind of crime. Some have even called for the death penalty for people who stalk children online. How severe we as a society wish to treat crimes of this nature is something for our leaders to help us work through. But our first line of defense is enabling those we trust to protect us to find and lock up these criminals so these crimes can be stopped.
But at this time, we cannot expect law enforcement to be able to stop anyone from approach our children online. So we as parents share in the responsibility of making sure our homes are secure. Just as we put locks on the doors even though police are there to stop intruders, we must secure the internet so the chances of our kids becoming victims is minimized. The three strongest locks we can use to protect our families online are…
. Software. We can put software on our computers that will keep our kids out of web sites where these criminals may lurk. These “Net Nanny” programs are inexpensive and effective.
. Knowledge. We must teach our children not to talk to strangers online any more than they would in a public place. Cyber stalkers are clever so we must be sure our children understand the risk and do not engage anyone they don’t know and trust online.
. Communication. Keeping the lines of communication open with our kids will assure that if they suspect they are being approached by a cyber stalker, they can come to their parents who can then alert the authorities.
It’s a shared effort to stop these criminals from having access to our children. But by working together with law enforcement and keeping those lines of communication open with our own kids, we can shut down their access to our children and so frustrate their ability to commit crimes against those we love the most.