Is the Internet Putting You or Your Child at Risk?

“It is actually obscene what you can find out about people on the Internet.”  This direct quote is from a man who used an internet information service known as Docusearch to locate and kill a young woman he developed a fixation on in high school.  The man developed an obsession with a classmate in the tenth grade and years later, on October 15, 1999, he drove to her workplace and fatally shot her before killing himself.  This is one extreme example of cyber stalking.  Cyber stalking can lead to cyber bullying as the stalking evolves into threatening or obscene e-mail, spamming or live chat harassment.  A victim may also experience computer viruses, electronic identity theft, or tracking of their computer and Internet activity.

There is no stipulated definition of cyber stalking, however, any act deemed to be threatening and unwanted using online and computer communications can be a form of cyber stalking.  Cyber stalking can be just as psychologically traumatic as physical stalking, and often leads to off-line stalking, including phone calls, vandalism, trespassing, and assault.  Victims experience psychological damage, including changes in sleeping and eating patterns, nightmares, anxiety and fear for their own safety.  Cyber stalking is motivated by a desire for control over the victim.

Protecting yourself and your children from cyber stalking and cyber bullying becomes crucial to safety.  This starts with choosing a genderless screen name and being careful about the websites you visit, including social media websites.  Don’t flirt online, unless you are prepared to deal with unwanted attention and unwanted suitors.  Never engage in flaming (online provocation) and report offending messages to your internet service provider.  Don’t respond to threats and notify the website moderator or operator of any offensive messages.  Don’t confront the stalker/harasser as it only encourages the behavior.  Never give out personal information and Google yourself frequently to ensure no one else has posted personal information about you online.

As a parent, you should monitor what websites your children are viewing and remain engaged in your child’s life.  Watch for personality changes or the need for privacy while on the computer. Insist on being friends with your child online and monitor their posting.  If you see your child posting a text message, tweet or response to a status update that is harsh, mean or cruel, address it immediately.  Watch for repeated patterns and behavior that indicate your child may be depressed or anxious.  If your child is withdrawn or acting out in anger at home, review their website history.

If you suspect your child is being stalked or targeted by a cyber-bully, block the bull, limit your child’s access to technology and make yourself familiar with your child’s online world.  If you discover your child is engaging in bullying behavior, put a stop to it, even if it means taking away their cell phone or right to non-monitored computer use.  Remember that as long as your child has access to online technology, they are at risk.