Internet Poses Opportunity and Risk: Cybersafety for Children and Teens
By Meghan Fay, Assistant Editor

A Pennsylvania man who met three teenage girls in an Internet chat room was charged last week with sending pornographic information to them via the Internet. Christopher DeHaven, 32, was arrested when he stepped off a train at Boston’s South Station where he intended to meet up with two of the young girls. 

Just as you encounter good and bad people on the streets of your communities, you encounter good and bad people while traveling through cyberspace. This makes the need to arm your children with the ability to protect themselves that more important. Although the Internet is an excellent resource, it poses risks for children and teens who venture into cyberspace unsupervised. Setting limits and family rules for how to interact online and choosing the people your children meet online is necessary. 

Unsupervised cyber-surfing has led to the disappearance of children and teens across the country. According to Shay Bilchik, former Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) Administrator, 72 percent of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s (NCMEC) Internet-related case victims are 15 years of age or older. When the parents were polled about their Internet supervision, 20 percent said they provided no supervision, 52 percent said they provided moderate supervision and 71 percent said they stopped Internet supervision for their child at the age of 14.

“For millions of families this is an issue and a concern and most Americans still don’t get it,” said Ernie Allen, President, NCMEC. He believes that parents have a false sense of security when it comes to the Internet. They are far less computer savvy than their children and think that their children are safe on the computer because they are doing something constructive inside their room. However, individuals who prey on children have quickly adapted to the online community and often use computer technology to seek unsupervised access to and contact with children.

“The Internet came onto the scene so quickly and so pervasively that parents began to look at it as another electronic babysitter,” said Michael Medaris, Program Manager for OJJDP and manager of Internet-related crimes for the organization. While some dangers exist, there is also a tremendous benefit. To deny a child access to this learning tool would place them at a disadvantage, he said. “The best thing a parent can do is become as knowledgeable as their child. Make the Internet experience a shared one,” said Medaris. 

The comprehensive effort to raise awareness of online dangers, specifically the online enticement of children, is deeply rooted in the organizations’ (OJJDP’s) fight against child pornography. Once a child has been victimized and photographs have been put on the Internet, it is a, “relentless and ongoing violation of that kid’s privacy,” said Medaris. 

Recently, the issue of preventing child pornography on the Internet was raised in workshops at the Tenth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders in Vienna and previously at an international conference last fall on “Combating Child Pornography on the Internet.” This annual international conference is based on an initiative by the Foreign Ministers of Austria and the US, Wolfgang Schüssel and Madeline Albright, and calls for cooperation internationally to fight against child pornography. The objectives of the conference include: 

  • Reinforcing cooperation among law-enforcement officials and the judiciary.
  • Establishing voluntary self-regulatory mechanisms (codes of conduct) among Internet service providers.
  • Encouraging the establishment of further hotlines to report leads on child pornography found on the Internet and of networking among existing hotlines. 
“Our priority over all of this is to prevent the abuse of children,” said Terry Lord, Chief of the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, Criminal Justice Division  of the United States Department of Justice. “Our work in Internet child exploitation is not purely the dissemination of child pornography, but to prevent the solicitation of children.”

Internet Guidelines 

The Internet has the ability to create a false sense of security because users don’t know who they are giving information to, what that individual will do with the information or if the user’s cyber-buddy is telling them the truth about their identity. Some guidelines for cyber safety include: never give out personal information or identifying information online, never have a face-to-face meeting with another online user, never respond to messages that are obscene or suggestive and use gender-neutral names in chat rooms like initials. 

Parental supervision and increased communication between parents and children are also crucial elements to cybersafety.  “Children should feel empowered to discuss both good and bad experiences in cyberspace,” said Medaris. Some suggestions include: 

  • Don’t blame or punish a child when he/she tells a parent about an uncomfortable online encounter, ratherwork together to learn from it so that it does not happen again. 
  • Investigate blocking and filtering software to limit access to inappropriate material.
  • Keep the computer in a central location in the house so that its use becomes a family activity.
According to Anne Bryant, Executive Director of the NSBA, a school’s role should be to make the vast array of resources the Internet has to offer available to students and to teach them the rules of the Internet. “I think the most important role for the school is to teach our students how to be their own censors, their own judge, their own manager of the information they get on the Internet,” said Bryant. 

Bedford County, Virginia, under the leadership of Sheriff Michael Brown has developed an Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force to create a Safe Surfin’ Campaign educational outreach program for students and parents. This campaign, outlined at, is presented to all fourth through seventh graders in the county’s public school system. Future plans call for expansion to target the younger and older children. 

Currently, the program consists of two video presentations: one for fourth through seventh graders and one for parents to address guidelines for Safe Surfin’. Baseball players from the Salem Avalanche, the Colorado Rockies farm team, help the students learn the guidelines. Once the students have completed the program, they are rewarded by a Safe Surfin Day at the ballpark with the Salem Avalanche. 

The acronym SAFE SURFIN is used to convey guidelines of cybersafety. The children’s program utilizes the acronym SAFE to highlight the following guidelines:

Speak with parents and get their permission each time before going online.
Avoid giving out personal information over the Internet (age, address, phone number, passwords, photos, location of school, etc.)
Feel free to tell parents or teacher about e-mail, chats, websites and pictures found on the Internet, especially if they make you feel uncomfortable.
Enjoy time online by always observing these Safe Surfin’ Rules of Internet Safety. I promise to be a Safe Surfer!

Parents are also taught cybersafety guidelines using the acronym SURFIN’:
Supervise: Passwords are required to go online.  Protect your password and enter it for your child each time the Internet is used. Set limits with your child, determining when and for how long to "surf" the Internet. Station computers with Internet access in the family areas of your residence and not in your child's bedroom.
Understand: Users of the Internet may have criminal motives, especially exploiting children -- physically, emotionally, and mentally.  Untrue statements are prevalent on the Internet.  Verify any claim with outside sources.  Unsolicited and solicited sexually explicit images sent to or depicting a child, are AGAINST THE LAW.
Remember: Regulation of the Internet is not governed by any government or other organization and access must be an individual's decision. Responsibility belongs to the receiver of information. The First Amendment permits most forms
(pictorial and written) of free speech to be transmitted on line.  Child abuse, including child pornography and child exploitation, however, is not protected by the First Amendment because it is not a free speech issue -- it is a child safety issue... and often a life or death issue. Remember that while the Internet can be a valuable and exciting tool, it can also be misused to the detriment of your family.
Find out: Find Internet providers that will screen most objectionable material from coming to your computer screen.  Although nothing is foolproof and education is paramount, such services and/or software can help to filter out unwanted material.  BRT encourages all Internet services to adopt the Code of Ethical Conduct. Facts about the computer are known by your child!  It is a good opportunity for a parent to learn "computer wisdom" from a child. Figure out computers by taking a class about the Internet.  Community colleges and adult education centers frequently offer introductory Internet classes at little or no cost.
Identify: Identifying information is never communicated to another online:  (e.g. age, home address, telephone numbers, photographs, passwords, school, etc.). 
Individuals your children communicate with via e-mail should be familiar to you. 
Investigate and then insist that any proposed face-to-face meeting with another computer user occurs in a public place with you -- the parent -- in attendance. 
Ignore messages that are suggestive, obscene, belligerent, threatening, or make you feel uncomfortable.  Do NOT respond!
                  Supervise your children's use of the Internet. 

                  Understand that not all information found on the Internet
                  is trustworthy. 

                  Remember that parents are responsible. 

                  Find out as much as you can about the Internet from
                  different sources. 

                  Intelligent parents protect personal info. 

                  Now, have FUN on the Internet. Safe surfin'! 

“I would like to see the same type of program, same format as DARE about how to keep safe on the Internet,” said Brown.

Internet content that relates specifically to the victimization of children, online enticement of children or child pornography should be reported to NCMEC’s Cybertipline at, a resource for reporting the sexual exploitation of children online. This resource is available 24 hours a day seven days a week.

Parents – You are Not Alone

Although, much of the burden of a child’s safety rests on their parent’s shoulders, there are resources for parents and families about the hidden dangers on the Internet.

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and

Get Net Wise

Safe Surfin

Internet Safety Quiz for Kids

Safety Quiz for Parents

Bedford County Virginia’s Safe Surfin’ Campaign

McGruff’s Cybersafety Tips

Baptist Women First

Florida Police Chief’s Association



Cyber Netiquette Tips from Disney

Tools and Tips for Parents

Tools and Tips for Kids

Internet Safety

Cyber Patrol

Surf Watch

U.S. Department of Education’s Parents Guide to the Internet

“Online Safety for Children: A Primer for Parents and Teachers” videoconference
Terry Lord, Chief of the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, Criminal Justice Division  of the United States Department of Justice
Michael Medaris, Program Manager OJJDP
Sheriff Michael Brown, Bedford County, Virginia
Ernie Allen, President, NCMEC
Anne Bryant, Executive Director NSBA
159 Burgin Parkway | Quincy, MA 02169
617-471-4445 | Fax 617-770-3339