Seattle's Child

Your guide to a kid-friendly city

Seattle Police Give Tips to Keep Your Kids Internet Healthy

Seattle's Child recently spoke with Seattle Police Detective Malinda Wilson, who is part of the Internet Crimes Against Children Unit, about the dangerous generation gap that exists between what some call "digital natives" (children who are growing up in the digital age) and "digital immigrants" (parents who are less familiar with the technology their kids are so comfortable with).


SC: What do parents today need to be aware of when it comes to their kids and computers? What is happening?

Wilson: Parents need to know that teenage girls (especially ones with low self-esteem) are communicating with adult men online. They are flattered by it. They can't differentiate between a nice guy and predator.

When you spend all your time communicating online, you can't tell when someone is lying. You can't evaluate voice inflection, body language, facial expression, etc. All you get is pretty words and their pictures.

Girls don't know what to do when it gets uncomfortable. They are curious, and don't want to appear immature.


SC: Why is "sexting" so common? (Sexting is the act of sending sexually explicit messages or photos electronically, primarily between cell phones.)

Wilson: Communicating on a flat screen lowers inhibitions. Kids who wouldn't ordinarily bully or send a sexy photo are doing it online. A girl sending a naked photo of herself doesn't see the other person's response, and they don't see her embarrassment. It makes it easier. Once she has sent it, she has lost control. It is in the nature of boys to share – the photos are out there in cyberspace.


SC: What can parents do to regain control?

Wilson: I recommend that parents with kids under age 16 (the legal age of consent in Washington) should have instant access to accounts like My Space and Facebook. Monitoring software programs can help with this. They include key stroke capture programs that record everything typed into a keyboard. They can also tell you if your kids have more than one e-mail account.


SC: How should parents deal with online pornography?

Wilson: I like to remind parents that the Internet and puberty do not mix! Kids aren't bad, just curious. What is online is more graphic, violent and depraved than it ever used to be. Kids can't un-see something that they have seen. Be realistic. Denial doesn't work. Pornography should not be viewed on the home computer. Talk to your kids about it and set rules. Be sure to explain why you don't want them looking at it.

Utilize the "internet options" under "tools" in Internet Explorer. You can limit the degree of sex language, nudity and violence by setting an adjustment.


SC: When should parents start talking about Internet safety?

Wilson: Start young. Encourage your children to tell you when uncomfortable things happen online (bullying, pressure to send a risqué photo, etc.) Do not have a knee-jerk reaction to take the computer away. Praise them for coming to you and work out issues together. Take the littlest hint that they want to talk to you. We are busy. Keep your radar up and jump on opportunities to talk.


How to Use Parental Controls

There are parental control settings on Windows Vista that can help parents control Web content that they think is unsuitable for their children. The following Windows help articles explain how to use them:


Search engines like Firefox also offer parental control add-ons for free: search for parental control .
Glubble allows you to create a private family page where you can monitor and support your children's online activities.
The ProCon Latte add-on filters out inappropriate words.

About the Author

Laura Spruce Wight