N.C. Takes Action Against Online Risks for Children
N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper talked with Carolina Parent’s Tivi Jones about protecting children on the Internet. Here’s what he had to say about the work he is doing on a state and national level as well as what parents can do to help keep their kids safe.
CP: How did you get involved with the issue of children’s Internet safety? Why is it important to you?
“I came to this issue as not only the chief law enforcement officer in North Carolina, but also as a parent.” The Internet provides a good source for children to learn and to communicate, “but it’s also caused problems and sometimes even danger for them. I believe it’s important for me to beef up our computer crimes unit to help keep kids safe and to make sure parents and children are educated on how to protect themselves.”
CP: What are we doing in North Carolina specifically to help keep our children and teens safe and educate parents?
“Well, first I created the first computer crimes unit, and we concentrate mainly on protecting children from child predators and child pornography.
“We are coming hard at it from the law enforcement end. In addition, I am leading an effort of most all of the states’ attorneys general in the country to get social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook to use more technology to protect kids online.
“The most important thing we can do is to educate parents and children about protecting themselves. I have people in my office who are going out and giving programs at PTA meetings and civic clubs explaining specifically to parents steps they can take to protect their children.
“A lot of parents don’t believe they are technology-savvy enough to protect their kids, and it’s important they learn things to protect their children.”
CP: What advice would you give to parents on keeping their children safe online?
“The first thing is [establishing] a line of communication with your child and establishing trust with your child. Even though a parent may not be technology-savvy, it’s the same approach you have for other problems with kids — with drinking, drugs and sex. [Have the] same discussion with them about use of the computer and communication devices. Make sure they will talk to you about any problems they have.”
CP: Are there any anecdotes, facts or stats you want to share about this issue?
Cooper told a story about a 13-year-old boy in Cary who began talking to someone online, who was actually a child predator. The predator found out where the young boy lived, and when his parents weren’t home, he came to the boy’s house and raped him.
“It’s critical that you prevent particularly younger children from talking to strangers online.
“We’ve seen a number of instances where children have sent out videos and pictures of themselves that they thought they were sending to close friends that ended up being posted all over the Internet.
“We tell parents that they need to talk to their kids about privacy on the Internet. Texting and IMing are second nature to children.” Cooper expressed that what children may not understand is that “it creates a permanent record of whatever it is they say or whatever it is that they send. It’s important parents get a handle of what [their children] are doing online.”
Cooper suggests parents become children’s “friends” online on MySpace and Facebook. Children are much more likely to “behave” online when they know their parents are watching them or could potentially see what they are doing.