Predators target teens, ’tweens’ via the Internet

By: Bruce Warren Journal Staff Writer
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Some parents may know there are adult predators posing online as children, but 33 percent of tweens and teens say their parents know little or nothing about what they do online. Tweens are youngsters from ages 8 to 12, who are most vulnerable to adult online predators. The U.S. Department of Justice, Cox Broadcast-ing and the New Hampshire Crimes against Children Research Center gathered statistics about parental lack of knowledge from recent surveys. The surveys also show that 22 percent of parents have never discussed Internet safety with their children and 42 percent of the parents do not monitor what their children read or type in chat rooms. Deputy Ken White of the Placer County Sheriff’s Office has spoken at workshops at 22 county schools that range from kindergarten to eighth grade. White advises parents to have their children avoid the Web sites MySpace, Craigslist, Yahoo personals and most sites with chat rooms, according to literature he distributes. Anyone can find a child’s profile on MySpace if they know the e-mail address. At the Annual Internet Safety Summit held July 23 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Josh Walsh, host of “America’s Most Wanted,” believes there is way for the government and the Supreme Court “to figure out a way how to protect our children on the Internet.” The summit was billed as an opportunity to discuss safety issues regarding the Internet. The group also visited Capitol Hill in an attempt to press Congress to pass laws to protect youngsters from Internet predators. The Boys & Girls Club on High Street in Downtown Auburn has a room with 20 computers available to youngsters ages 6 to 18. A parent or legal guardian must sign a release form before any child can use the club’s computers, and a staff member is always present while youngsters use the computers. In addition, the club installed an Internet filter that blocks inappropriate Web sites. “For us, what we’ve learned is to have clear expectations and always have an adult present,” said Randy Tooker, chief professional officer at the Boys & Girls Club of Auburn. Lyndsay West, 11, who attends Skyridge school, was using one of the club’s computers on Friday to make an on-screen drawing. When asked if she knows about adults pretending to be children on various Web sites, she said, “Yes.” “I just play on the kids’ stuff. My mom won’t let me go on MySpace,” Lyndsay said. Michael Green, 11, who recently moved to the Auburn area from San Jose, said he was aware of adult Internet predators. “I mostly play learning games when I am here,” Michael said. While Lyndsay, Michael and others used the club’s computer, Jan Iverson monitored the children’s Internet usage last Friday. When parents get around to finding out what their children do online, it might be a good idea for them to research the online terminology that youngsters use. According to the Cox survey, 95 percent of parents do not understand the shorthand lingo that tweens use in chatrooms, such as P911 which translates as parent over shoulder. Children whose parents talk to them about Internet safety are far less likely to participate in unsafe online behavior, according to research from the New Hampshire Crimes Against Children Research Center. Parents are advised to teach their children not to talk to strangers online and to not give their name, phone number or address to strangers, and explain to them why. Parents can more easily observe what their children are doing online if they place the computer in a public area of the house, rather than the child’s bedroom. Children are less likely to engage in unsafe behavior if they are within sight of their parents. There are computer programs and technology that can limit the sites that tweens can visit on the Internet. Web browsers can record a history of Web sites that are visited. Instant messaging programs can show who your children have chatted with. Deputy White of Auburn recommends a couple of software programs that can protect your children. One is Keylogger that lets you monitor keystrokes on your computer in open or stealth mode. Guardian Monitor Professional 9.0 monitors keystrokes and blocks offensive Web sites. This program also can send you an e-mail with a copy of exactly what was done on your computer. Parents should be aware of Penal Code sec.502 (e)(1), that makes a parent or legal guardian of a minor responsible for crimes committed by the minor through the use of a computer, according to White. The Journal’s Bruce Warren can be reached at, or comment online at