by Mike Ferguson
(St. Charles, MO) – As digital technology evolves, sexual predators seem to figure it out as fast as our children do. That’s almost always faster than parents can keep up.
Missouri has a special team in place to catch online predators but the Missouri Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force can only do so much. Experts say the first – and best – line of defense is parents.
Sgt. Chris Bosley wants parents to understand that online danger is not just on the desktop or laptop anymore.
“If it’s an app designed for kids or games for XBox – like ‘Call of Duty’ – people are talking through those now. It’s nonstop. You go in there and five minutes later you’ll be talking to someone who’s wanting something more than just a friendship.”
Regardless of the rules and standards in your home, Bosley cautions parents to proactively address online dangers. Many children, especially teenagers, think they are more of an expert in the cyberworld than parents and may not want to listen. While the young people are generally know more about the technology and social media, they often don’t understand the physical danger involved.
Bosley points out that, while you may teach solid values in your home, the messages kids receive every day encourage risky behavior.
“Kids are naive, they don’t think these people are lying to them. The way TV shows are today; it’s scantily-clad women, it’s talking about sex, it’s drinking…so, as a society, we’re pushing it on the kids [saying] ‘hey, this is how we act now'”.
According to Bosley, the cases of children sending explicit photos and videos from their phones to each other and, sometimes, complete strangers is more common than many adults realize.
While law enforcement in Missouri is trying to keep up with the constant onslaught of predators who are looking for children to entice into sex through the latest technology, Bosley says a big part of the solution is old fashioned.
That’s talking to your children, especially teenagers, and making sure you have complete access to all their electronic communications. It won’t always make you the most popular person in the house but having that accountability in place is worth it.
” The ones who say ‘it’s not going to be my kid’, that’s the one who’s not watching their kid’s phone. The one who’s worried about their kid and looking at their phone and looking at their texts, I think they’re going to have a better success rate of that one not doing it.
“It’s the parents that are just naive and oblivious to what their child is doing online.”
Going online yourself isn’t enough. Being a friend on Facebook or following your child on Instagram isn’t enough. That parenting and the sometimes uncomfortable conversations that come with the role is crucial.
Bosley says that’s because young people are migrating away from social media standards, including Facebook, and on to newer options because their parents are getting on social media. For different reasons, many teens don’t want to be on the same social media as their parents.
That is part of the opportunity for sexual predators, who make it a point to be where the children are online.
Technology will always be in a state of change. Tragically, predators will also evolve their tactics with it. While it’s good for parents to keep up with those changes as much as possible, nothing can take the place of good, old-fashioned parenting principles that predate the dawn of the information age.
On the web:
Missouri Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force: www.MOICAC.org.