On the heels of a 'Dateline NBC' investigative report exposing sexual predators who attempted to lure young teenagers into sexual encounters, MSNBC's Alison Stewart welcomed John Shehan from the Center for Missing and Exploited Children to Tuesday's MSNBC Live to discuss how parents can keep their kids safe online.
Shehan, who heads up the center's cyber tip line said that since the program's inception in 1998, they've received over 350,000 reports regarding some sort of child sexual exploitation. Through their work, they've learned that predators have no favorite way to lure children into bad situations.
"There isn't really one specific method. It's really how they can communicate, how they can establish a bond with that child," he said. "It's estimated that 30 million children in the United States are accessing the internet, and it's estimated that one in five children has received an unwanted sexual solicitation while online."
Even with the different methods predators use, Shehan said the cyberworld is attractive because of several reasons.
"It's an entirely different world where anyone can be anybody. They can pose as a friend, a nemesis, they can be anyone they want, and a lot of times the predator is just looking for a child that needs attention. They are quickly there to initiate that conversation and to be a best friend," he said.
Within that anonymous world, the vulnerable are the easiest targets, he said.
"It's dangerous in the fact that while that child is online for hours and hours at a time, they're seeking something, whether it's assurance, whether it's a friend, that child predator is going to be online, they're going to read those online blogs, they're going to be in chatrooms, and they're going to be looking for children," he said.
Shehan noted that there are several things that can be done by parents to keep their kids safe.
"First and foremost, parents need to educate themselves before they can even talk to their children about the issue," Shehan said, noting that most parents know far less about the internet than their children.
According to Shehan, in addition to learning about the problem, supervising children while they are online is key, as is communicating with children.
"As we get through the holiday season with Halloween, I'm sure parents took the time to talk to their children of the real-life dangers with strangers," he said. "But are they taking the time to talk to their kids about the cyberworld?"
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