Getting Real With Amy Kelly was gracious enough to share her two-part series on Internet Predators with us. Read part one here. Thank you, Ken Shallcross,  for helping get the word out to make kids safer online.

Guest Post by Ken Shallcross from PC Pandora. Ken Shallcross is the director of public outreach and marketing for Pandora Corp. He has been with the company since 2007, and has a background in broadcast PR. He has a BA in journalism from University of RI, and is based in New York City.

For three years I have maintained a weekly series on my blog called Wacky Internet Predator Wednesdays. The title says it all. Every week I round up the stories that report on Internet predators being busted, getting caught and receiving sentencing. Not a week goes by without at least one person somewhere in the country being arrested for soliciting sex from (a) minor(s) online.

The very sad part: in the last year, I have noticed a sharp increase of stories where the predator succeeded and a real child was involved. Take for instance one recent entry, post #145. Every story that week featured actual teens being solicited by older men online. In every story, the predator succeeded in his mission:

  1. A 43-year-old man in Texas used his affiliation with a youth soccer league, as well as the Internet, to solicit sex from underage kids. He succeeded with at least one 14-year-old boy…
  2. A 25-year-old Iowa man met a 14-year-old girl on Myspace and had consensual sex with her…
  3. A 15-year-old girl in Ohio met a man from North Carolina on the Internet… he drove to pick her up and she got in the car with him… all the way back to NC!!
  4. In Los Angeles, a 14-year-old girl met an older man on Facebook and MySpace and he drove to her house, kidnapped and raped her. At the time of the blog post, the suspect was still at large!

Oddly enough, the week prior to that (entry #144) featured four stories of predators being snagged in sting operations, which is a clear indication that these guys are out there in droves. Sometimes we get lucky and get to them first. But go back one week further (to entry #143) and we have stories about these four guys:

  1. A 24-year-old man in Colorado posed at a 19-year-old boy online and was able to solicit and have sex with an underage girl he met online…
  2. A 37-year-old Florida man was arrested for driving to Omaha Nebraska to pick up a 17-year-old girl he met online. She went with him willingly… she says she changed her mind halfway back to FL, but he convinced her to keep going. Either way, think of the trust he gained by just convincing her to get in the car in the first place!
  3. A 29-year-old man in Florida, who was a puppeteer at a local church, used Facebook to solicit and carry-out a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old girl.
  4. A 55-year-old New Jersey man was arrested for having an inappropriate relationship with a 14-year-old boy on MySpace.

I am cautious to use the term “victimized,” as more often than not the meeting and eventual sex is consensual. Yes, there are cases of rape and kidnapping – but just as many, if not more, are teens that fell into a grooming trap and are saying yes on their own accord.

The reason? Teenagers are programmed to take risks. Some experts say ‘at-risk kids are more likely to be at risk in their decision.’ But isn’t every child at risk of making an ill decision? Unfortunately for parents, one of the biggest risks they take is talking to strangers online.

Go back 25 years to the national campaign warning kids not to talk to strangers. Remember “Say No, then Go and Tell someone”? This mostly applied to parks, playgrounds and walking home from school. But if a stranger called the house looking for you, would your parents have happily, without any questions, handed over the phone? I think not. As a child or a young teen did you pick up the phone, dial a random number, and start a conversation with a stranger? I doubt it.

But for some reason, in the Internet age and this time of unlimited mass-communication, where children can literally communicate with the entire world on a whim, parents are afraid to ask their kids who they are talking to online. They are afraid to check up on their kids and verify who they are making friends with in the globally-spanning digital community. This is the equivalent of leaving your child alone in New York City at 2AM.

Many Internet safety advocates make the big push for education. They say that education is the only way to achieve internet safety. While I agree to some extent, a quick pep talk will not do the trick. The last thing your adolescent offspring is going to do is consciously push aside their curiosity and desire to explore, simply ‘because mom and dad said so.’

You didn’t when you were their age. Why do you assume they will?

Furthermore, how can a parent have that pep talk if they are not involved and don’t know what their child is doing online. Filtering is good for young kids; blocking websites may work for adolescents, but sooner or later they will circumvent your roadblocks and disregard your warnings if you don’t stay with them and have that knowledge of what they are doing when they connect to the World Wide Web.

When a parent in today’s fast-paced digitally connected world puts computer monitoring software on their PC, they are given access to true knowledge of what their child does on the Internet. There is no hiding or covering up tracks; parents can see all. This includes forming relationships with strangers online.

It should also be said that the duty of keeping your child safe is never to be trumped by some ‘inherent’ right they have to be left alone. Privacy should be given only when and where warranted and earned. This is a completely separate blog post, but the point is: the Internet is not one of those places.

There should never be a substitute for good parenting; but there should also never be a fear of using a tool that will help you be the best parent you can be. Knowledge is power. We need more powerful parents. Computer monitoring software (like our PC Pandora) is the best tool in the arsenal of the 21st century parent. It’s the easiest thing a parent can use to keep their kids protected and safe from Internet predators as they grow up digitally.