At War With Electronic Predators

Catholic School Official Outlines Steps
To Help Parents Protect Children From
Those Who Come Without Knocking

By Cris Carter
Associate Superintendent of Catholic Schools
And Loutitia Eason
Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City

ARCHBISHOP’S NOTE: The Church reminds us that parents are the first teachers of their children in the ways of faith. It is this natural responsibility that urges parents to nurture, care for and protect their children. One of the current problems parents must face is the misuse of the Internet. By providing an atmosphere of prayer and sharing of Christian values, parents offer the very best protection against Internet misuse. The following article directs parents to develop an interest and involvement in their children's Internet use. This is a beautiful challenge and opportunity for parents to be the first teachers of their children.

Last night I sat in my comfy recliner with a cold diet coke in my left hand and the remote control in my right.  I told myself I would not watch what seemed to be the ten thousandth episode of Dateline's feature story about on-line predators.  When I turned the television on, the channel was set to NBC, and in no time I was hooked - again.  As the mother of a teenage boy, I watched with a mixture of horror and fascination the endless parade of men from all walks of life, ethnicities, educational backgrounds and socio-economic ranges stroll through the door of a suburban home to meet a child.  It was a lot like watching a train wreck.

While the majority of the men admitted to watching previous episodes of Dateline's sting operation, through some compulsion they came in droves to seek gratification of their sick desire from adolescent boys and girls.  Although women are also capable of this type of behavior, none of the episodes had a woman show up at the door.

In spite of evidence to the contrary, most of those profiled lied when confronted by the media and showed little remorse for their intended victims. I had the sense that upon release from jail, they would continue to follow their urge for children, and sadly, that is a statistical reality.

To be sure, this is a cautionary tale for all parents, and because June is Internet safety month, and because of Archbishop Beltran's and all those who minister to children's concern for the safety of all of God's children, I feel compelled to share with you what I have learned during the past few years as a Catholic School administrator and parent.

First and foremost, as parents, grandparents and caring adults we must take measures to protect young people from the lure of other adults who have an unnatural attraction for our children.  As a parent my first instinct is to throw the computer out of the house and disconnect the phone line.  However, that is unrealistic.  My family often uses the computer for good and useful purposes.  We love playing with i-tunes, researching, and e-mailing friends and family.  Since getting rid of the computer is out of the question, we must take other precautions.

The best recommendation I have, which is supported by experts, is to move the computer from your child's bedroom and place it in a common, high traffic, area of your home.  Having the computer in full view at all times, allows parents to see at a glance, where young people are going on the Internet and to keep tabs on the amount of time children spend on the computer.  Spend some time with your child as they search the Internet.  My son has taught me a lot about the computer and about his i-pod.  I treasure those rare moments together.

Remember the first Church is the Church of Family.

Next, be nosey.  As an educator, I frequently hear concerns from parents such as, "I don't want to invade my child's privacy."  In today's world this is tantamount to putting our heads in the sand.   As a parent I recommend being honest with your child about your concerns and tell him/her that you will be snooping.  Tell your son or daughter that that is your responsibility as a parent. While I feel "guilty" when I regularly check out the computer my child uses, I do it - up front and honestly with my child. ("Why?" I ask myself do I feel guilty - because I'm Catholic or is it simply that I love my child and want him to be free from ALL harm?)

Be concerned and be a responsible parent and stop feeling guilty.

Another way to be nosey is to check the cookies on your computer.  You can see all the places your family has been on the Internet by looking at the trail they leave. That trail is called a cookie.  Also, be sure you always have access to your child's e-mail account so you can see who is sending e-mail, and who they are corresponding with when they are on line.

Snoop and snoop some more.

On a personal note, I recommend discouraging the use of chat rooms. If you are going to allow your child to participate in chat rooms, parental responsibility must increase.  Just as we emphasize with parents and volunteers in our Safe Environment Programs, as risk increases, supervision and accountability must increase. Monitor the chat rooms your child is frequenting and monitor them all the time.  Again, placing the computer in a common area of the home helps parents effectively maintain close supervision of use of the Internet.

As risk increases, supervision must increase.  Be a vigilant parent.

At home you can provide some measure of protection for your child by activating the parental controls offered by your internet provider or by purchasing blocking software which keeps young people from accessing sites that are attractive to sex offenders.  Although these mechanisms are good, they are not fool proof. Modern technology and many internet providers allow concerned and responsible parents to check frequent sites, chat rooms, etc.  Many providers now send alerts regarding dangerous sites.  Check the e-mails from your internet provider. Again you must monitor the computer your child is using.

Monitor and use the technology available to your advantage.

Check out your child's school safety protocols.  Ask to see specific Internet safety policies and practices.  Learn how the school handles cyber- bullying and inappropriate e-mails and chat room conversations.

Participate in the school's efforts to protect students.

Fellow parents, we must also become aware of several web sites that are highly attractive to adolescents and are very dangerous. Xanga and MySpace are sites where subscribers can create their own web page. Subscribers fill out a profile, and that profile asks for specific information.  It is amazing the numbers of young people I have seen on those pages who post their school name, their photograph, their activities, and the dates and times of places they plan to be.  Please know that these sites are visited by people eagerly awaiting the opportunity to meet your child.  Please scan those sites periodically to see if your child has adventured into that area, and immediately pull any revealing information.

Monitor the "bad places."

Educate yourself about these "bad places." If you see your child's information discuss the danger with him/her.  If you see your friend or neighbor's child on this site --- call them!  Get that networking thing going.

Last but not least, share the following safety musts with your teen:

* Never meet any one face-to- face that they have first met on the Internet.  Dateline's recent episodes, clearly demonstrate the danger of such an endeavor.

* Tell your child that people on-line often lie about who they are and about their intentions.

* Warn them of the dangers of posting photos of themselves or posting identifying information such as their name, address, school name, phone number or places they plan to go.

* Discuss the danger of downloading pictures from an unknown source.  Be honest and collected about this subject. It is shocking what can come across the screen - pornography, etc.  Here you must be guided by your knowledge of your child.

* Help them understand why they should never respond to messages or bulletin board postings from strangers or that are suggestive, nasty, or harassing.

I hope you find this information helpful, and that you are able to protect your child from journeying into dangerous Internet territory.  I wish you and the young people in your home a fruitful, happy and safe Internet experience.