Internet predators can find their way to your kids even on sites you least expect, NBC 4 New York has found.
One in seven kids receives sexual solicitations online, according to the advocacy organization Enough is Enough. More than half of those kids have also been asked to send a picture, and the majority of victims of Internet-initiated sex crimes were between 13 and 15 years old, the group says.
NBC 4 New York watched and recorded three friends as they entered an Internet chat room with cartoon characters that appeared to be for young people. Within minutes, strangers contacted them, asking personal questions.
"How old are you?" reads one message.
"I'm not telling," responds one of the teens.
Another message asks, "You wanna date me?"
The girls quickly respond, "No."
Brooke Ivler, of North Caldwell, N.J., said she and her friends usually go online to talk to each other.
"But sometimes other people come on and talk to me and say other stuff," she said.
The site administrator for the chat room said the page was shut down temporarily after NBC 4 New York contacted them. They also add that the site has not been marketed for children.
Curious about how bold strangers can be when online, I logged onto a site called Kidschat.net and posed as a 13-year-old.
Before you log in, there is a page warning users they have to be at least 13 years to chat and not to post anything vulgar. Yet, just seconds after logging in, I was bombarded with messages from strangers.
Some asked me for my age, and when I responded that I was 13, that did not stop them from continuing to chat. Others propositioned me for online video sex.
One user who NBC 4 New York will not name asked if I had a webcam, and when I responded that I didn't, he decided to send me video of him doing something obscene.
NBC 4 New York reached out to Kidschat.net several times but did not get a response.
From the suburbs to the inner city, Internet safety is a growing concern.
NBC 4 New York sat down with six teenagers from Harlem RBI, a youth community group that teaches baseball and softball skills, among other things.
All six teenagers said they have been contacted by strangers online, and some were subjected to inappropriate conversations and images -- even on the popular game, Draw Something.
"Well some people don't draw what they're supposed to," said Diamond Chinnery, 12. "They draw really gross things and they say disgusting things so I'm just like 'exit.'"
Parry Aftab, a leading expert on cyber safety and creator of the site WiredSafety.org, often speaks to schoolchildren about online safety. She says it is up to parents to keep up with their kids and to teach them to be web savvy.
"We need to make sure we've taught our kids how to protect themselves without making them paranoid," said Aftab. "You want to be at a trusted site -- you're not going to drop your kids off on a street you've never seen. Why would you let them go onto a site you don't know anything about?"
Aftab suggests parents use filters and look for sites that require parental permission to join and those that have moderators who will boot inappropriate people.
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