Retired St. Paul police officer presents on Internet safety

Do you know where your kids are hanging out online?

By Elizabeth Sias

These days, there are thousands of social networking websites and kids are more comfortable talking via text than on the phone or in person.

In an informative presentation at Braham Area High School on Thursday, March 29, Rick Anderson, a retired 25-year veteran of the St. Paul Police Department and Commander of the Minnesota Internet Crimes Against Children (MICAC) Task Force, shared the information necessary to keep kids safe online.

During the “Internet Safety for Families” presentation, Anderson told parents to make sure to know where your kids are hanging out online.

Spend time with them online and spend a night with them looking at what they do online, he said. Set rules and guidelines, as well as consequences for violating those rules.

Ask your child to show you how to do something online, such as setting up a Facebook profile or changing your privacy controls. That way, the parent can see their son or daughter’s account without explicitly asking to.

Anderson also explained to be aware that kids might have more than one Facebook account—one the parent knows about, and one they don’t.

Tell them consequences of their actions they may not realize. For instance, he said his son used to keep a separate Facebook account his dad didn’t know about. Eventually, he found out, and on that account, his son had posted some photos, including one of himself next to some beer cans. Anderson told his son that if his coach saw the photo, or even a student on an opposing team, he could be banned from his sports team at school.

Among all 8- to 18-year-olds, only 36 percent say they have rules about the amount of time they can spend on their computers. It’s important to set restrictions, Anderson said, so kids aren’t spending too much time online, or spending time online late at night.

Sexual Predators

“The most common characteristic of potential online victims (as reported by the offenders) was their willingness to make sexual comments or discuss sexually related issues or topics.” —Malesky, Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 2007.

Posing as a 16-year-old girl, Anderson signed into a Yahoo! Internet chat room. Within seconds, he was bombarded with private messages from middle-aged men from around the state asking simple questions, such as age, sex and location, and asking for photos.

It can be easy for these men to locate a child given the right information, Anderson said. If any of them were to instigate an offer of sexual conduct or show images of pornography, it would be enough to make an arrest.

Gay teens are possibly more at risk, he said, because they may not feel comfortable talking with parents who are anti-gay or homophobic, so the kids go to gay teen chats online seeking love or affection.

He advised parents to be aware of sexploitation and “sexting,” sending nude photos in a text.

“Think about what you post on the Web and what you say to others,” he quoted from his slide show. “The Web is a lot more public and permanent than it seems.”

Even if you post and image and delete it, the image will be saved in caches and Internet searches.

Anderson also said to be aware of mapping capabilities in smartphones, and to turn off the function to store location information in photos. He demonstrated this by looking at a photo he took of his daughter at his house from his iPhone. He sent the picture to his computer, and from the mapping information encrypted in the photo, he was able to open up a satellite image on Google Earth and find the exact address of the location the image was taken.

Cyber Bullying

The topic of bullying is an important issue being addressed in middle schools and high schools across the nation right now. “Cyber bullying” is the use of e-mail, chat rooms, instant messages (IMs) or text messages to influence or intimidate others.

Examples are stealing passwords or impersonating someone else online. Blogging as someone else, or signing into another person’s Facebook account and posting status updates as them, are other examples.

Sometimes criminals will create websites designed to look familiar to Internet users, but will steal identities—credit card information, birth dates or even Social Security numbers. Always be aware of what you post online and make sure the website is safe by looking for https:// in front of the URL, or the lock box symbol.

What to do if your child encounters cyber bullying:

  • Don’t delete anything. Keep everything related to the incident(s) in case it is needed later
  • Tell a trusted adult
  • Contact the bully one time only. For instance, reply to a cyber bullying attempt with a simple “leave me alone” message, cc the cyber bully’s ISP (Internet Service Provider); for instance, Comcast or AT&T, and they will shut down the bully’s account
  • Do not respond after that, even if the bully attempts to provoke or harass
  • Send all complaints to the cyber bully’s ISP, including the bully’s messages
  • Report websites created to harass to the ISP

For more information on family Internet safety, contact Rick Anderson at [email protected]