Tuesday is Safer Internet Day, an annual event calling attention to the need for more safety-conscious online behavior every day of the year.
“We want to make sure kids are staying safe when they’re online,” Callahan Walsh of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children told CBS News.
The group’s tip line received 8 million reports last year of cyberbullying, online predators, and a relatively new offense known as “sex-tortion.”
In those cases, he explained, perpetrators are “finding an explicit image of a child by different means, it could be hacking an account ... and using it to blackmail the child for further images.”
The organization has created an animated campaign to educate kids (and parents) about how to recognize and respond to common threats in cyberspace.
“Through different activities we try to empower kids to make good decisions on their own,” Walsh said.
Studies show 1 in 3 children say they’ve been victims of cyberbullying. The threat spans across the range of technology and activities favored by young people, with about 40 percent of cases involving instant messenger services; 30 percent taking place on social networking sites; and 20 percent occurring while playing online games.
It’s a problem that tragically hit home for Raul Vela’s family in Texas last fall. His 18-year-old daughter Brandy committed suicide after receiving abusive text messages for months from bullies using an untraceable smartphone app.
“I want to see these people get locked up. I hope they get what they deserve because I didn’t deserve this,” he said.
Walsh points out that the problem of internet safety is getting more challenging as technology evolves and becomes more ubiquitous in kids’ lives than ever before.
“Parents used to keep the computer in the living room but now it’s in their child’s pocket. So it’s in their bedroom, it’s in the bathroom with them, it’s everywhere they’re going. So it’s even tougher for parents to monitor when they’re on it 24/7,” he said.
Walsh’s family also knows firsthand the devastating toll a child predator can take. His brother Adam was kidnapped and murdered as a young boy in Florida in 1981. Since then their father, John Walsh, has dedicated his life to helping kids stay safe as a co-founder of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and host the long-running TV show, “America’s Most Wanted.”
When it comes to the hazards kids face today online, experts offer a number of tips to help children stay safe:
- Parents should have frequent discussions with their children about internet safety.
- Set ground rules for kids about which sites are OK to visit.
- Children should tell a trusted adult if they encounter bullying or harassment online.
- If a child is cyberbullied, they should not respond to the bully online. Save any evidence, then block the bully.
Some of the best advice for kids also applies to internet users of all ages:
- Use strong passwords to protect your accounts.
- Don’t share personal information with unknown sites.
- And beware of clicking on “phishing” links that might be trying to steal your data.
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