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Internet Safety Tips

None of us would leave a child unsupervised in the middle of a large city and yet, frankly, the Internet is just like that city. Not all its streets are risky – the Internet is a great place for kids to learn and entertain themselves – yet we must all recognize this particular “city” has a dark and dangerous side. Did you know 1 in 4 kids today have received unwanted exposures to sexual materials while online? Did you know 1 in 5 kids have received unwanted sexual solicitations, almost entirely from strangers, while online? Probably not, since less than 10% of such incidents are ever reported to parents or authorities.

Before the Internet came along, child molesters were basically a lonely and hunted breed. In fact, many authorities thought child pornography and the associated sexual exploitation of children were under control. Today, however, networks of Internet-based child molesters are proliferating worldwide. No longer must the abuser operate in the physical world, lurking around schoolyards, parks, and malls, always fearful of being “seen.” Instead, abusers now operate in the “cyberworld.” They log on from the safety of their own homes, enter your homes via the Internet, then lurk in various chat rooms, preying on our most vulnerable among us. Our children may be at risk each time they go online, and we want to do everything possible to keep our kids safe.

Here are some tips for teens and parents of teens:

Basic Rules of Online Safety for Teens

The most important thing to remember is when you're online in any kind of public forum, you're out in public and everyone can read whatever you post. You should never post anything on the Internet you wouldn't want known to the public at large. You should also remember that people you meet in cyberspace might not be who they seem to be.

Keep Your Identity Private

If you're in any type of public forum, avoid giving out your full name, your home and/or mailing address, your telephone number, the name of your school, or any other information that could help someone determine your actual identity. The same applies for your family and friends. Never reveal anything about other people that could possibly get them into trouble.

Never Get Together With Someone You "Meet" Online

The biggest danger to your safety is if you get together with someone you "meet" online. Remember, you never know for certain if people you meet online are who they say they are. If you do feel it's appropriate to meet with someone, discuss it with your parents and never go to the meeting by yourself. Arrange to meet in a public place, like a coffee shop or mall that you (not just the other person) are familiar and comfortable with, and never go alone. The safest procedure is to have your parents talk with the parents of the other person and for both of you to bring your parents along on the first meeting.

Never Respond to e-mail, chat comments, or newsgroup messages that are hostile, belligerent, inappropriate, or in any way make you feel uncomfortable.

It isn't your fault if you get a message that is mean or in any way makes you feel uncomfortable. If you get such a message, don't respond. Instead, show it to your parents or a trusted adult to see if there is anything you can do to make it stop. Sending a response just encourages the person.

Talk With Your Parents About Their Expectations and Ground Rules for Going Online

It's important that you and your parents are on the same channel when it comes to your online activities. This includes when you can go online, how long you can stay online, and what activities you can do online. Communicating with your parents doesn't mean you have to give up your privacy. It just means you come to an agreement based on a mutual trust and understanding. While you're at it, perhaps you can help your parents better understand the Internet, what it can be used for, and how it is helpful for teens.

The Santa Rosa Police Department wants you and your children to be safe online. We actively investigate reports of possible Internet predators. If you have any questions about online safety, you may call the Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault Investigations Team at (707) 543-3595.