We have all read or heard in the news how Internet Predators are stalking our children using sites such as Myspace.com and the copycat sites such as Mycrib.com. Unfortunately sexual predators are nothing new to the Internet. The problem is two parts. First how do we keep our children safe while online? And secondly, is it Myspace.com job to keep our children safe?
As the vice-president of the Missing Children Investigation Agency (MCIA) and a father of a nine year old daughter, I struggle with this question everyday. It’s easy to blame Myspace.com and sites like it for not monitoring their site and keeping our children safe. Myspace.com has over 40 million users. It’s impossible for Myspace.com to keep our children safe while using their site. It’s also impossible for you as a parent to keep your child safe while using Myspace.com. As a parent, no matter how much truth there is to the last two statements I just made, those answers just aren’t good enough.
At the age of nine years old my daughter isn’t on Myspace.com, but imagine my horror when she asked me if she could sign up for a Myspace.com account so she can speak with her OTHER nine year old friends online. My problem was that I was trying to approach this problem from the mind set of a parent. My first instinct was to take all possibilities of Internet access away from my daughter, So that she will NEVER get exposed to EVIL sites that expose my princess to these dangers. Of course this isn’t the answer. But what is the answer?
Of course I have parental controls on my daughter’s computer, but these programs fall short in this area. They can’t protect your child against what happens on Myspace.com, because your child is logging onto someone else computer. Think of it as letting your child spend the night at a friend’s house. No matter what rules and restrictions you have for your household, those rules and restrictions may or may not be enforced at the friend’s household. Here’s a scarier thought, Myspace.com is a corporation aimed at adults, not children, even though it appeals to children. If you doubt me, take a look at the ads on Myspace.com. So how do you protect your children while they are on someone else computer? Good news, I’m going to answer that question for you later in this article.
It wasn’t until I sat down and tried to approach this question as the vice-president of MCIA, was I able to come up with what I believe to be a great solution. I would never tell a parent to depend on someone else to keep their child safe, nor would I tell a parent that new laws will help protect their children. If criminals followed obeyed the law, they wouldn’t be criminals. In October of 2002 the Department of Justice Division of Juvenile Delinquency released the NISMART-2 report. According to NISMART-2 only 115 children nationwide were abducted by the stereotypical stranger. The other 1.3 million were abducted by family members or someone known to the child or the family.
Sites like Myspace.com breed a false since of familiarity. Your child drops all of the defenses you’ve instilled in them about avoiding strangers. How many of us consider someone we speak with everyday a stranger? They may not be our friends, but they aren’t regarded as strangers either. Think about it. The neighbor who you speak to in passing every other day for a few minutes, your mailman you had for over ten years who you speak with everyday for a minute or two, or a coworker you speak with at work; when you think of a stranger do you include any of these people?
Many experts will tell you that you should, or at least you should teach your children to treat even these people as strangers. It’s a good start, but that just doesn’t work. In all good caution I can’t tell you that it does. That is an easy feel good answer. My job is to look for children who were abducted by someone they thought they knew. Simple feel good answers do neither my investigators nor me any good. So what is the answer?
First you must understand that sexual predators are called predators because that is what they are. Just as a tiger will stalk its prey across the jungle looking for the weak defenseless youngling, the sexual predator stalks our children looking for their weakness. Only the sexual predator is willing to stalk your child for months and sometimes years. The Internet is a dream come true for the sexual predator and sites like Myspace.com is paradise. But you already know that.
The Internet gives the sexual predator complete camouflage ability. They can pretend to be anyone and any age? Every night they come into your home unseen by you and learn the weakness of your child and waiting for the perfect time to pounce. Here is the really scary part, they don’t have to abduct nor even actually meet your child to abuse them. If your child has a webcam you can have even larger problems. The sexual predators no longer need to lure your child into a cheap dirty motel room to take pictures of them. That webcam take video and still pictures as well. And your child most likely will not be aware that they are being recorded. Your child maybe sitting at their computer innocently chatting doing nothing wrong. I’m going to get a cup of coffee while you go rip the webcam from your child’s computer. …
Feel better? Although stomping up and down on it was a bit much, the webcam needed to go. There is no need for your child to have a webcam. They see their friends at school everyday. There is no need for anyone else to see them online; especially when your child is at home in their room with their defenses down.
The Internet has created a new stranger. It has given the worse of our society the ability to camouflage themselves as anyone they want. This stranger is so bold he will come into your home and take advantage of your child while preying on the natural trusting spirit most children have. Don’t think because your child is a teenager, they are safe and can defend against this stranger. Teens have a hard enough time defending against a sexual predator that approaches them on the street. By teen, I mean all the way up to the age of eighteen or even nineteen. They have no real life experiences to prepare them for this new stranger. Nine out of ten children when told not to talk to strangers and that there is no such thing as a “Lost Puppy”, will go with a perfect stranger to look for a “Lost Puppy”. To teens the “Lost Puppy” is affection or acceptance they are lacking. And by teens I don’t just mean girls. Your sons are just as vulnerable if not more so.
Now that we know the problem, what’s the solution? Face it, in today’s world your child has to be able to use a computer. Computer skills were once something that got you hired in at a higher pay rate. Today you need basic computer skills just to get the interview. Internet research skills are also in high demand. So what do you do? If you ask your kids why they use Mysapce.com they will tell you to talk with their friends, share photos with friends and to meet people. Well, needless to say children don’t need to go online to meet people, so we’ll put that one aside for now.
First we have to take control over who our children meet while using the Internet. The best way to do this is to start your own family website. Even if you’ve never designed a webpage before in your life, it is easier then you think. It’s also not as expensive as you thought. You can get a website hosted for as little as $9.99 per month or $99.00 per year. A domain names start as low as $12.00 per year. A domain name is how people find you on the Internet (i.e. http://www.myspace.com).
With your own family website, you have control over special features that are not available to Myspace.com users. I’ll go into detail a bit later. First you need to think of a domain name. Most hosting sites will also register the domain name for you. Some charge a separate fee and some do it for free as long as you keep your website hosted through them. I suggest you go to a separate domain registrar. It’s easier in case you ever decide to switch your hosting service. Go to www.Yahoo.com or www.Google.com (not www.Googles.com), in the search box type in “cheap domain registration”. Once you decided on a company pick a domain name that the entire family can use (i.e. your_family_last_name.com). It will ask you for a DNS number or Name Server. Most have a default value there. Don’t change this for now. You can log back in later and change that. The DNS and name Server is like your zip code on the Internet. Your domain name is your address. The hosting service will send you an email with the DNS or Name Server you need to replace the default information with.
Now you need to select a hosting service. Go back to the Internet search site and type in “cheap web hosting”. Here is what you need to have on your site:
• At least 25 to 50 Gig-a-bytes (Gig) of hard disk space.
• 1000MB (or 1 Gig) of data transfer. The higher this number the more visitors you can have to your site. Some site charge you if you go over, so get as much as you can.
• Unlimited sub-domain names (Very important – MUST have)
• Unlimited POP3 email address (Very important – MUST have)
• “C Panel” (the control panel you will log into to setup the safety features we will use. C Panel is a brand name, but it’s the easiest to use.
• “Fantastico” (MUST have). Some sites don’t advertise this feature. If the site has a demo version of their C Panel, logon and look for a blur smiley face. That is the Fantastico logo. Fantastico allows you to add the features your child goes to Myspace.com for.
• Built in Website builder – if you don’t know how to create a website this is the easy way to design your website. Fantastico has several to choose from.
• MYSQL Database – each feature you add to your site needs its own database set up. Fantastico does this for you. See why Fantastico is a MUST have?
• Statistics tracking – This is where you can see who comes to your site and better yet, you can BLOCK them from coming to your site. C Panel has an email tracer that will allow you to trace down who is sending email to your children. And you can do it from work or from your laptop at Starbuck. Isn’t it fun to be Big Brother?
• Be able to host Yourname.com. (Meaning you can point the domain name you just created to their server.
• Unlimited FTP – This is so your kids can upload to their webpage and create their own mini site. You will still have control over it though. I’ll go more into that soon.
• Protected folders – So you can password protect your child’s site and control who can visit and more important who can’t.
Don’t get the Windows Server, get the Linux server. A Windows Servers sounds like that is what you need if you are running Windows on your computer. The Linux Server is cheaper and it works better for our needs. If you or your children use Microsoft FrontPage to create the website, then go to C Panel once you’ve selected your site and enable FrontPage extensions. If you are using the website builder the hosting company offer or another website design program don’t enable that feature. Most sites have a page where you can compare their plans at one glance.
Now that you are signed up, you should get an email in a few minutes with the DNS or Name Server information in it. You should have also gotten an email from your domain registrar with instructions for logging onto the domain site so you can update where your domain name is pointing. Now log into your domain site and update the DNS or Name Server information. It will take 24 hours for your domain name to point to your new hosting server.
Now go back you the email you received from your hosting company. It has instructions on how to access your site until your domain name is pointing to your site. Go to POP3 email and you can create an email account for every one in your family. POP3 mean you can check your email from a program such as Outlook or Outlook Express. Most sites also give you the option of logging on and checking your email without using any other programs. This is called Web Based email. From this section you can block unwanted email addresses and set up spam filters.
Next you want to go back to the main C Panel page and select sub-domains. From here each member of your family can have their own mini site that they can customize. A sub-domain will look something like this “childname.yourdomain.com”. To get to the sub-domain, once the main domain name points to the site, you type http://childname.yourdomain.com. These mini sites can be setup the same as the main site. They will have the same features. Some sites allow you to limit how much web space each sub-domain gets and which options are available to the mini site.
Next go back to C Panel main screen and select Protected Folder. From here you can assign usernames and password to certain sections of your site and mini sites or you can password protect entire sites. That way anyone who visits your site and or mini sites has to have a username and password and you have to give it to them.
Now you need to go back to the C Panel main screen and set up your web stats. This is where you see not only who visited all of the sites you’ve created, but where they came from and in some cases where they went to afterwards.
I know this sound like a lot, but you only have to do it once and you now have full control over your family website and mini sites. You can do this before your domain name is pointing to your site.
Remember that blue smiley face? Click on it and take a look around. It may look like Greek to you, but to your child it is heaven. Everything Myspace.com has they now have. They can start a blog page, chat room (because you can password protect the site your child is safe from the new stranger I spoke about earlier) photo gallery (great for posting family photos – no more making everyone copies) and amongst many other features the website builder. There will be several to choose from.
You can use these features to create your family’s main website. You can also create other mini site for things like vacation.yourdomain.com or newsletter.yoursite.com familyreunion.yourdomain.com or yourbusiness.yourdomain.com. You can create an unlimited amount of sub-domains at no additional cost, as long as you have enough disk space on your server. The average site use only 5MB (Mega-byte) of space (1 Gig = 1000MB), so if you have 25 Gigs of hard drive space for your website, you can get 20 mini-sites per 1 Gig of space (you do the math). Of course photos, audio and video require more space. But you can limit the mini-sites as to the size of photos they can upload and the types of files they can upload.
This isn’t the absolute answer to all of the problems the Internet presents, but it is a solution you can put into action for a little over $100.00 per year. Now your child will complain that they can’t meet people online. Tough cookies, we don’t want them to meet people online. It’s important to give each friend a separate username and password. This way you can track who is on your child’s mini-site, from the web stats section of C Panel. Now get a good parental control Internet program and block Myspace.com and other sites you don’t want your child on. If you have DSL or AOL you may already have a program that can do this at no additional charge. Call your DSL provider or AOL and they can help you set it up.
This article will not keep your child safe from the sexual predator, but it will help you keep them out of your home. Your family deserves to be safe at home, don’t wait for a politician to pass another useless law, take control yourself.