Kids Play, Predators Play
About the Guest
Users beware. That’s the warning label that Internet safety expert Donna Rice Hughes wishes popped up each time a person logged on. Donna talks about the prolific number of online predators that use the internet for criminal purposes. Find out where online pedophiles search for children and how they lure them to meet face to face.
Users beware. That’s the warning label that Internet safety expert Donna Rice Hughes wishes popped up each time a person logged on.
Kids Play, Predators Play
Bob: How much time do you let your kids spend online each day? Is there a limit? Are there ways they’re getting online that you’re not aware of? Here’s Donna Rice Hughes.
Donna: A lot of parents don’t realize that that XBox™ or the Wii®, or whatever is actually just a mini-computer and will often give little Johnny the XBox for Christmas and let little Johnny hook it up. Little Johnny gives himself complete open internet access.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, August 19th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. We’re going to talk today about how you protect a child from cyber-bullying, from predators, and from online pornography.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You know, when I first became aware of the web—in fact, I remember, FamilyLife—We went on the World Wide Web in 1996. I’ll never forget the meeting that we were in where we made the presentation that we should have a website for FamilyLife Today.
Dennis: That was slick, wasn’t it? (laughing)
Bob: It had a picture of your family at the top and some text underneath. I remember after the presentation was over, the guy who had done the presentation—he’d left the room. One of the people on our leadership team said—this is 1996, “So what exactly is the internet and who uses it anyway?” At that point in time, that was not an unrealistic question.
Dennis: That was a fair response.
Bob: That’s right! Now back then it was all pretty much one way stuff. You went on; you looked at something; you logged off. You didn’t interact with your computer; but boy, have things changed since those dark ages of 1996, 15 years ago.
Dennis: We are no longer in Kansas, Toto! There is no doubt about it. With us to help navigate this new territory is Donna Rice Hughes. Donna, welcome back.
Donna: Thank you. It’s good to be back.
Dennis: Donna is the President and Chairman of Enough Is Enough, an internationally-known internet safety organization that trains parents and educators all around the world. Donna, your work is cut out for you. I want to talk about online predators, cyber-bullying, and online gaming, alright? So let’s get into online predators.
Donna: Absolutely! Predators are using the internet. They’re on the front-end of all the new technology, and they’re well-ahead of law enforcement. They’re ahead of parents; and predators prey where kids play, a very important rule of thumb to understand. Kids are online. Predators are going to be online, right? They’ve got easy and anonymous access to children.
There’s a sort of perfect storm that’s happened on the internet with predators. Let me just preface this, however, that most child sexual abuse is occurring by someone that a child actually knows. It can even be a family member, but that does not mean that internet predation is not a very big and real problem. It is.
Predators have easy access to kids, but they also have easy access to child pornography. This has never happened before the internet. Predators had a really hard time getting child pornography through the mail services because the postal inspectors were really on top of this. Now, with the internet, you’ve got all this new child pornography. It’s easy to create child pornography. When a predator or pedophile abuses a child, immediately those images and videos go online and start being shared.
You have another thing that has happened with the internet called virtual validation where predators congregate together and they share information about how to avoid law enforcement detection, new tricks in grooming children. They share their child pornography back and forth, and it actually validates that this behavior that they’re doing is actually okay and acceptable. They really have fallen into this delusion that it’s okay to have a sexual appetite for a child, and to abuse a child, and that kids really like this.
Bob: I think a lot of people have seen the TV show, where Chris Hansen on NBC will set up the hidden cameras and—it looks like it’s really easy and simple to draw out a predator.
Donna: It’s very simple. Some of these predators are actually on the internet a lot. They are still trolling for kids to abuse and use in the physical world, but also in the online world. They can be grooming many at a time, and we cover grooming in our predator section. This is a very important thing to understand. Predators don’t typically come right out and say, “Hi.” You know, “I’m Bill. I’m 35, and I want to have a sexual relationship with you.” Sometimes they will spend weeks, months, even a year, developing a trusting relationship with a child. We call that process grooming.
I interviewed a sexual predator who is serving time in prison now about how he did this, and the kinds of kids that were vulnerable, and the kinds that were not. We called him John Doe. He was a teacher, and actually was a believer, and got into the trap of hard- core adult porn and then fell into child pornography, then started getting interested in children, then started interacting with kids in chat rooms and instant messaging and then took that offline and got caught.
Also, I interviewed a young girl, Alicia, who was abducted when she was 13. The man who groomed her she says, “He was my best friend. I could tell him anything,” Alicia would tell us. She said, “You know, he just drew me away from everyone—my parents, my friends, and everything else. I couldn’t wait to get online to interact with him.” So once he began a sexual online relationship with her and finally revealed that he was an older man and what his true intentions were, she was already fully trapped in his grip.
This can be very difficult because the more common scenario with a predator, where a child would actually have an offline encounter—be used by a predator in this way—is where the kids go willingly because they often find or feel that they are in love or this person is a friend. So it’s a very, very tricky situation. The abductions, they do happen; but they are not the norm.
Dennis: Donna, I think a lot of parents listening to you right now go, “Well, where do they find our children?” I mean, where on the internet are they trolling for these kids? When I was growing up, my mom would go with me to the playground. She always warned me about not taking gum from a stranger, not taking a ride from somebody I didn’t know; but she was usually there. Now we have, in our homes, a portal that gives total strangers and, in the case you’re talking about here, predators, access to our kids. Where do they find them?
Donna: They find them in a lot of places. It used to be that chat rooms and instant messaging were the two largest areas because they’re very interactive there. In the old days, in the initial web if you will, we call it Web 1.0, we used to always say, “Don’t let your kids have a profile,” you know, because all it takes is a screen name and a little bit of information and a predator could then start to selectively target the type of child that they’re attracted to and find those that are vulnerable to online seduction. Now, you also have social networking sites and online gaming sites that are tools of the predator.
Dennis: I wanted to stop you there. Online gaming is a place where predators pick up these kids.
Donna: Well, absolutely! A lot of parents don’t realize that that XBox, or the Wii, or whatever is actually just a mini-computer and they will oftentimes give little Johnny the XBox for Christmas and let little Johnny hook it up. Little Johnny gives himself complete open internet access. Big mistake.
There are parental controls on these online gaming devices, and they have to be used. Where online gaming is quite unique, I think, particularly for predator use, is that they’re actually playing a game so there is already camaraderie there. So it’s easy to build a relationship. Then, there are headphones so you can hear other people playing the game with you. Then, if you engage the webcam, you can see the people that you are playing with. So now you’ve got all these different senses going. So it really is—you know—again, it goes back to, “Where kids play, predators prey.”
Social networking sites as well because now kids are building their profiles and putting a lot of information up—pictures and personal information—so that it makes it very easy for a predator to pick and choose the kind of child that he’s going to go after and then start to engage.
Bob: So you’ve got, I don’t’ know what the number is, 500 million people on Facebook today? So you’ve got all of these sites. I mean, I’m on Facebook. I’ve got my profile and I don’t say a whole lot about myself in my profile; but this is where 13- and 14-year-olds live.
Donna: They do.
Bob: You’re saying that this is the kind of place where a predator can just scan along and maybe get access to your profile?
Donna: That’s right. First of all, kids do feel that they are invincible, and I think that’s really important. The thing is, kids are being taught typically to trust people and to trust adults. I mean, they are innocent. They are naïve. So you combine all those things— so you can see how it would be very easy for a predator to come into a child’s life.
Another thing to recognize about predators and pedophiles, they really like kids! They will take time with your child. One of the things that we teach in our programs, and it’s something that a law enforcement officer told me: He says, “Remember to tell you child that you love them because if you don’t, someone else will.”
Alicia, in our program, says, “Look, your kids are curious about sex once they hit about 10-, 11-, 12-, 13-years-old. If you don’t start talking to them about their choices and healthy sexuality, someone else is not only going to tell them, they’re going to show them.” So, again, parents just need to realize there are some bad folks out there; and they are looking for your kids.
Bob: So, if you’re sitting down with your 14-year-old daughter and you’re saying, “Honey, I’m glad that you’re on Facebook. That’s fine. We’re okay with that, but here are the things you need to make sure you do,” or, “Here’s how to spot the wrong kind of thing.” What kind of tips, what kind of rules, would you give to a Facebook user?
Donna: First of all, the age limit is 13-years-old. That doesn’t mean that when your child turns 13, you let them on. I believe and encourage every parent before you let your child set up a Facebook profile or a MySpace profile, you go on and set up one yourself. You get to know the culture of that particular social networking site because they each have their own cultures.
You learn that and you go, “Okay, can my child handle this?” If you make the decision your child’s going to be able to set up a Facebook account, you want to help them set it up. They need to understand that their privacy settings have got to be set to the most strict level so that you can’t see a picture or anything with that privacy setting on. Help them, you know, understand what kinds of pictures would be appropriate; what kinds of pictures would not be appropriate.
Here’s the real key. We talk about privacy and privacy settings. There’s really no true privacy because, even in a private Facebook profile, anyone that’s in that friend’s space that you know, can take that material and cut and paste it and put it someplace public.
In fact, there was a young girl, a teenager, I was interviewing in our program and her dad. She said she had never put a picture up on her MySpace page, I think she said; but that some of her friends had put pictures of her up. Well, you should have seen the look on her father’s face. He had no idea.
So it’s not only important for parents to be monitoring their children’s social networking sites and also their gaming profiles, because you set up a gaming profile too, but to see what their friends are saying and posting about them. This is where community really becomes important for parents. Get to know your child’s friends and your child’s friend’s parents so that together you can look to see what they’re doing and make sure they’re being safe.
One of the other things is to tell you child to think before they post. There’s no take backs. Something goes on line, it’s there forever.
Dennis: Right. We had a guest on FamilyLife Today a number of years ago. He was the father of a little girl who was preyed upon by a man from San Diego, who travelled back to Arkansas, ultimately abducted her, and murdered her. We played that broadcast on FamilyLife Today, along with interviews with the FBI.
On a speaking engagement, Donna, on my way out the door, I just had the sense that I needed to take that broadcast with me. At the speaking engagement, I ran into a guy and I said, “You know, why don’t you listen to this with your family?” He had two daughters, one about 13, the other 16. They listened to that series of broadcasts about this little girl, Casey Woody, who was 13-years-old when she was abducted. As a result of that, the 16-year-old saw her 13-year-old sister interacting on the internet with someone she didn’t know.
Dennis: Well, it turns out she was being groomed. They had to set up some avenues of protection to protect her as she went to school. That guy was up to no good.
Dennis: So a part of what you can do for your family is call family members to look out for one another in the midst of all these temptations that are occurring.
Bob: Let me ask you about cyber-bullying because I’ve heard that phrase; and honestly, it just sounds like, “Okay, so somebody comes on line and says means things about you.” I go, “Okay, get over it.” Is there more to cyber-bullying than just people saying mean things about you on the internet?
Donna: Well, there is a lot to cyber-bullying. I would say that it is epidemic. The latest statistic is about 43 percent of young people say they have been cyber-bullied. I think that’s really growing. The problem with cyber-bullying, as opposed to just bullying on the playground as we used to know it, is that it’s 24/7. Because the kids’ cyber-lives and their physical lives have really merged, they’re really one. They often can’t really separate the cyber world from the physical world.
So now, If you have a bullying situation, it’s following that child 24/7; and it can be relentless. The other thing is it can go viral very, very fast. It used to be somebody writes something bad about somebody on the bathroom wall, well you can go clean it off. You can scrub it off. But if you have a gossip situation, that can go viral across a whole school, a whole county, a whole state, just in a matter of an hour!
Bob: Can you give an example of a cyber-bullying scenario that has been something that has been harmful for a teenager? Or not?
Donna: Well, yes. One of the stories that we tell in our program: A mother tells the story of a cyber-bullying situation where her boy and another boy, who was more of the instigator, actually stood up on a toilet in the stalls at the bathroom at school and took pictures of another little boy going to the bathroom in the other stall. Then they spread that all across their school. It was just devastating, of course, to the little boy whose picture—his privacy had been invaded—and her son and the other boy were expelled. So that’s just one simple case.
We’ve seen so many instances of suicides because these kids feel hopeless. They don’t necessarily think they can ever get beyond this and that their lives have been destroyed. So there’s just anything you can think of creatively—a way that you could abuse the technology and hurt somebody—kids are thinking of these things, and they’re doing it to each other.
There are a lot of signs to be aware of. One of them is: If your kid loves the technology, and then they start avoiding the technology. That’s a really big, big red flag that there could be some cyber-bullying going on.
Dennis: You can destroy another person’s reputation online.
Dennis: I mean there were a number of teenagers at a prominent school on the east coast that a couple of months ago, they were spreading rumors that a number of girls were promiscuous and it simply wasn’t true; but they destroyed those girls’ reputations.
I want us to take just a couple of minutes, Donna, to talk about online gaming and the dangers and what parents can do to protect their kids from that temptation.
Bob: You’re talking about things like World of Warcraft© and the role-playing games that, I mean, some kids will go hours and hours in these games.
Donna: Just the online gaming world itself is its own culture. Kids love this. It’s not just a guy-thing. It’s also a girl-thing. One of the psychologists that we interviewed on our program talked about the fact that almost all of the boys she had seen in her practice for pornography addiction had all had a long history of gaming use because there’s a lot of cross marketing between online gaming and pornography.
We’ve got an eight-year-old boy talking about playing something on Nickelodeon ®, and he’s seeing pop-ups of naked girls. There was this little boy talking about this. So you’ve got those kinds of issues.
You’ve also got just the addictive nature sometimes of the games and the violence, which is a whole other thing. With the predation, you know, predators—they have got a really easy foot in the door. The good news is that, just like any other technology, parents need to manage it.
The same thing goes with texts and instant messaging and that kind of thing. That’s really important because kids are pressing the envelope in everything else, especially on social networking sites. They’re being edgy, there’s a lot of peer pressure and that kind of thing. They can create their own profile one week and it can look very different the next week because they’ll try on something else. They will try on something new. It’s like a yearbook on steroids, you know. It can change and constantly be pushing the envelope, but parents can really work with their kids so that they’re using the technology safely and not getting into these troubled areas.
Bob: At the end of the day, we can train, and equip, and have filters, and go through material like this, but ultimately we’re talking about influencing a child’s heart and helping a child understand these temptations, understand the sinful nature of these temptations, and be discipling our kids. There will be a time when they’ll be over at somebody else’s house, or at the library, or they’ll have access to the computer, they’re going to go to college. We’ve got to get to the heart of the issue.
Dennis: You know, as you were talking, Bob, I was thinking about the Book of Proverbs. It’s a father instructing a son or, for that matter, a daughter, in what is wise and not being a fool, but being filled with wisdom. Spiritually-speaking, these are days when we need to be equipping our children to know how to say, “No”; to know how to turn it off and talk about it with their mom or dad as they’ve seen something that they didn’t understand or something that appealed to their curiosity. Then, parents, as we’ve talked about all this week, have got to be vigilant. They have to not only train their kids but they have to inspect what they expect.
Donna, I just appreciate you, your organization and what you are about. Thanks for hanging in there since 1994 and being a, really, a champion for protecting children and equipping parents. We really appreciate you and hope you’ll come back and see us again.
Donna: Thank you so much.
Bob: Well, we appreciate, too, the resource that your team has put together, the Internet Safety 101 resource, the DVD, and the workbook, and the “Rules and Tools” booklet is very helpful. Of course, we’ve got all of it in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Folks can go online at FamilyLife Today.com for more information on how they can get the entire kit. Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com.
Look for the Internet Safety 101 resource that you can use as a family, or use with other families, or use in your church, or use in your high school youth group at church; or just call us toll-free if you’d like at 1-800-FLTODAY and ask about the Internet Safety 101 resource. Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com and our phone number is 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word “TODAY.”
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And we hope you have a great weekend. We hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend. We hope you can join us back on Monday when we’re going to explore the power of affirmation—how the words we speak can really speak life into the soul of another person. I hope you can tune in as we have that conversation with Sam Crabtree.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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