When Online Trouble Strikes


There is much discussion of how to prevent trouble online, but much less mentioned about what to do when it does. The internet is a huge playground filled with all manners of people and trouble to get into. When your child is involved in a situation online, knowing what to do next is often confusing. Depending on what she’s done or been involved in, you might need to have her apologize, or you may need to call law enforcements immediately (not on your own child we would hope, but on someone taking advantage of her innocence.)

Cyber Bullying and Griefing

The most common form of trouble children get into online with others is a form of bullying called cyber bullying or griefing. The terminology is broadly applied to any situation where one minor uses the internet to cause grief to another. Situations have become very serious even resulting in murder and suicide.

Cyber bullying has various degrees, but should your child come to you with information about a situation she’s become involved in, you should first get all the facts. Hopefully you’ve alerted your children to come speak to you before responding to griefing as that makes your child as much at fault as the originating party. Learn all you can about the offensive message, website or pictures. Then you’re ready to take action.

If your child knows the guilty party, she can tell you the child’s name and you can speak with her parents. This is similar to the playground squabbles of a few years ago. Hopefully by getting parents tactfully involved, punishments can be dispersed and the issue dealt with. If parents are not enough for a situation or your child is uncertain who is sending the messages, you should take additional steps. Regardless of who is sending the messages, save screen shots or copies and then block the user through your email or instant messaging program.

If the messages are seriously threatening, offensive, embarrassing or illegal, save a copy of the message, pictures, or a screen shot of the website and forward the information to your internet service provider. Your ISP can help you track down the offending party through the internet and have their connection terminated. The same is true of an offensive website. These sort of websites and emails are against the terms of service for almost every internet provider and hosting company, and if a user is found breaking the TOS, results can be swift and severe. Be sure to save your own copy of all offensive material.

Additionally, if any actions taken against your child are illegal or you suspect them to be, you should contact your local law enforcement. Illegal acts include but are not limited to threats, stalking, hacking and identity theft.

Cyber Stalking and Child Predators

Unfortunately the internet creates the perfect haven for those who enjoy talking to and trying to connect with underage individuals of both genders. Cyber stalking and child predators are not just a problem for girls. There have been many heavily publicized cases of boys becoming serious involved in these issues.

In most cases, these sorts of issues start of innocently by meeting a new “friend.” The friend sends pictures and tells your child information that reassures her that this is really just a girl from another school or a boy that lives a city away. The friendship grows and your child becomes more comfortable sharing information and allowing him into her hidden profiles.

The perpetrator slows gains information about your child’s location, name, school and family and then is armed with enough information to be extremely dangerous. Child predators don’t have to be adults as there have been cases with minors. Keeping your child’s friendships online limited to people she knows in real life can help prevent this situation, but when she comes to you in fear or concern or you suspect something unusual about the amount of time she spends online, immediately act on the concerns.

Log into her account and read back through messages, questioning your child about the individual and printing off as many emails and conversations as possible –always showing the information from the sender’s computer and username. Don’t hesitate to contact legal authorities with your information and follow up regularly. A child predator is a very real threat and police should act immediately on your information.

Inappropriate Content

If your child is working online and stumbles across a website with inappropriate content, she should alert you immediately and leave the website up on the computer. If she clicks away or closes the screen, it makes it much more challenging to take action. If the material is offensive but not illegal, such as X-rated material or even just R-rated material today, modify your security settings to block that URL and any words or phrases you see that might trigger other websites such as the one you’re blocking. If the material came through email, be sure to set controls there as well to block that sort of website.

If the website contains matter that you feel may be illegal, contact the local law enforcement with your discovery. The police in your area might not be able to do much if the material is based in another region or country, which is likely, so you should also report it to the Internet Watch Foundation as well. This group is an internet watchdog who takes reports of illegal and offensive materials and seeks to remove them from the internet. The groups mission is to remove child sexual abuse content hosted worldwide and criminally obscene and racial material from the UK found online. The group’s website, www.iwf.org.uk, has information about how else to use the site as well.

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