That was Sarah Migas’ opening message during a presentation about online safety Thursday night at Ottawa Township High School.
Social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook and Internet chat rooms and instant messaging are becoming increasingly popular means for children and teenagers to socialize. While they have their positives, digital technology also can be dangerous.
“Kids are seeing the Internet as the wild wild West,” said Migas, an Internet safety specialist with the Illinois Attorney General’s Office.
Migas and Daniel Spillman, assistant attorney general with the high tech crimes bureau, talked to a handful of audience members, introducing what they referred to as a “travel guide” for parents to navigate their way through some of these social networking sites and learn the languages being used by children to communicate.
Migas said acronyms often are used amongst bloggers and instant messengers and are not always familiar to parents, who should be monitoring their children’s online activities.
“It’s like going to another country; you’ve got to learn the places and the language so you can keep up with the kids because predators know where the kids are,” Migas said.
She pointed to examples such as A/S/L, which means age, sex, location. Predators can easily find a person with just that bit of information. Also, she cautioned parents about the acronym POS, which means parents over shoulder.
Internet chat rooms, sites people can access to discuss various topics in real time, also present possible dangerous encounters with predators.
Oftentimes, children will stumble upon sites because they’re curious about the titles, and find themselves looking at sexually explicit photos, or conversations, without meaning to.
“And if your child actually talks to you about it, they should be praised. Often they are scared to talk because they’re scared their computer privileges will be revoked,” Migas said.
Spillman stressed he and Migas aren’t trying to give out parenting advice, but threatening to yank the child’s computer time away often hampers the child’s willingness to open up about their Internet activities.
Online predators often will use what is referred to as “grooming” techniques to establish a relationship with a child, often times offering compliments about the child’s looks or sympathizing with their problems.
Predators also are taking advantage of Web cams, soliciting children to take off their clothes by blackmailing them with personal information the predator threatens to share with the child’s school or parents.
“These guys know how to get a hook in them and reel them in,” Spillman said.
According to statistics, one in seven children will be approached online for sexual content. In the majority of cases, the predators are men.
While law enforcement does have the power to criminally charge predators, and authorities constantly monitor possibly dangerous encounters, Migas and Spillman said that’s not enough eyes to protect children.
“We rely on parents,” Migas said.
Keep the computer in an open area. Ask children about their Internet activities and monitor their social networking sites. Parents also can check recent activities on the computer by accessing the Internet history account in the control panel of the computer.
Blogs also have grown in popularity.
“Basically a blog is an online journal,” Migas said, warning, “If you wouldn’t want your grandma to see the pictures or read the content, don’t post it.”
Digital technology also has spurred what is deemed, “cyberbullying.”
Instead of bullies preying on their victims in the halls of school or at the park, the tormenting is taking place online — where the threats and harassment can be seen by anyone around the world.
“It’s easy because they feel anonymous, and they don’t see the reactions of the victims,” Migas said.
Children can no longer take refuge in their homes from bullies.
“It can happen anywhere, anytime,” Migas said.
According to statistics provided, more than 40 percent of children are bullied online at some point.
When a child feels threatened or harassed online, Migas and Spillman said the incident should be reported to parents and-or police. Also, any evidence should be printed and saved, and children should not retort in any way, as it can worsen the situation.
While many of the social networking sites do have safety measures, predators often find a way around them. Law enforcement also continues to monitor the Internet, but Internet dangers will be an ongoing issue in which authorities need the help of parents to fight.
“Unfortunately, I don’t think this bureau will go under,” Migas said of the attorney general’s high tech crimes bureau.
Internet acronyms parents should know:
AITR: Adult In The Room
P911: Parent Emergency
PAW: Parents Are Watching
PIR: Parent In Room
POS: Parent Over Shoulder
MOS: Mom Over Shoulder
MIRL: Meet In Real Life
S2R: Send To Receive (pictures)
CD9: Code 9 (parents are around)
E or X: Ecstasy (the drug)
ASL(R P): Age Sex Location (Race / Picture)
TDTM: Talk Dirty To Me