Internet Safety 101: Protecting Your Kids

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Children are spending more time exploring technology than ever before. Recent information indicates more than 93 percent of kids are online, not just at home.

For many parents this can be a nightmare. But a new safety program designed just for mom and dad could help.

"Internet Safety 101" includes a DVD teaching series and other resources put together by Internet safety expert Donna Rice Hughes, from the organization "Enough is Enough." The purpose of the program is to keep young Web users away from Internet threats like pornography.

The Power of Pornography

"Even if you're not looking for it, you could be innocent," said 15-year-old Zach. "If you go on the computer, on the Internet, and you're looking for something good, it will find you."

That "it" is pornography, and it's hardcore.

"It is graphic," Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, emphasized. "It is explicit. It is deviant. It's aberrant. Kids are seeing content that no 12 or 13-year-old is mentally, psychologically, or emotionally prepared to deal with."

Child psychiatrist Dr. W. Dean Belnap said pornography actually shuts down a part of the brain.

"There is a loss of free agency because it demands a repetition of the experience over and over again," he explained.

"Pornography shaped my want for sex and what I wanted to do whenever I started having sex, big time," 16-year-old Justin confessed. "It wasn't just like, 'Oh, I want to have a relationship with this girl and have sex with her.' I just want to have sex with as many as I can and then sex was pretty meaningless, you know what I mean. I just wanted to do what they did on the porn."

It's not just boys becoming addicts.

"It pretty much kind of destroyed our lives because we depended on it and it just broke friendships... relationships," Courtney, 18, admitted. "It broke, like, our respect for ourselves and our respect for others."

"The children are supposed to imitate what the adult society says is good for important women and men," psychologist Dr. Judith Reisman added. "We show them those pictures. We show them those acts. They will do that because that's what children are supposed to do."

"Does it destroy them? Yes it does," she continued. "Is it their faults? No, it's our fault."

Dustin, 18, advises parents to be aware of what is actually on their kids' computer screens.

"Just be aware of what they're looking at because they can be sitting there looking at it and then be with the door closed, and their parents walk in, and they'll just click it and minimize it," he said. "So, like, sometimes you have to come up to it and look at the bottom, at the tool bar and see what they're looking at."

One Mother's Story

If parents don't know what to look for or how to protect their kids online, a click of the mouse can usher in a nightmare. "Rene's" story is one example.

"Through a minimized porn site and our computer's history button, we discovered that our precious 11-year-old son had been to hundreds of Internet pornography sites in the middle of the previous few nights," she shared.

Her son became intensely addicted to porn.

"We have spent the last 10 years trying to keep our son away from this 'drug,' with little success," she said. "Seeking counselors who could help him and being frustrated and angry that we were unable to protect our child."

The mother's story is a warning to parents that it can happen to anyone. The good news is the harm may be preventable.

Giving Parents Knowledge

Various partners, including the U.S. Department of Justice and America Online, helped with the Internet Safety 101 project.

"It fills the void in the market because it's the only multimedia program that is designed to educate, equip and empower parents, educators, law enforcement and other caring adults to protect children under their care," Hughes explained at a news conference for the national launch of Internet Safety 101.

"You don't have to be an expert on all the devices that your child's using, but simply be aware of what they're using and what it's capable of," AOL's Holly Hawkins said. "And then take advantage of the parental control that's been built in, whether it's a gaming device or a cell phone or a computer. Take advantage of what the industry is giving you."

However, it seems many parents and caregivers aren't following her advice. A study found one in five children under the age of seven use the Internet without parental supervision. Mobile devices that kids can use to access the Web make it more crucial for parents to establish safety rules and control content.

"Internet Safety 101" is designed to make this process easy to understand.

"Parental controls should be utilized on all Internet-enabled devices, including desktops, laptops, cell phones, PDAs, gaming and music devices," Hughes instructs viewers on an "Internet Safety 101" DVD.

Steps that Can Save Lives

"If I had had even the most basic software -- software that blocked chat rooms -- we may have had a different outcome," said Mary Kozakiewicz.

Her daughter, Alicia, was abducted by a sexual predator when she was just 13, but was miraculously recovered.

"It was a million to one against my recovery, a million to one, and as easily as that a child's life is reduced to a simple statistic," Alicia Kozakiewicz shared. "But by the grace of God, I was rescued. I was gifted with a miracle -- with my life and with a mission."

Alicia wants to share her experience with the hope to save others the pain she and her family endured.

"In actuality, my abduction began long before this man physically ever touched me," she explained. "It began eight months earlier. It began the very day we first made virtual contact."

Alicia said her parents were clueless about her online interactions with the sexual predator. She wonders if her kidnapping could have been prevented by a training tool like "Internet Safety 101."

The pilot program in Virginia reached more than 5,000 adults. At least 95 percent of the participants surveyed said they felt motivated to implement measures to protect kids from the dangers in cyberspace.

"Know what your kids are doing online and stay engaged with them," Hughes told CBN News. "Recognize that you can't do it alone. You need some help."

That help is definitely needed in a society where porn is free, and predators can gain access to your kids, even inside your home.

*Original broadcast March 9, 2010.

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Mark Martin is a reporter and anchor at CBN News, covering various issues from military matters to alternative fuels. Mark has reported internationally in the Middle East and traveled to Bahrain to cover stories on the U.S.S. Dwight D. Eisenhower. Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkMartinCBN and "like" him at Facebook.com/MarkMartinCBN.