I was fifteen and heavily into pen palling. I responded to anyone who wrote me. One day I received a letter from a state prison. I didn't know how the man found my name, but I began writing to him. It soon became apparent that he didn't realize how old I was. He called me his beautiful butterfly coming out her cocoon. The whole situation made me feel uncomfortable. How much did I really know about this guy? What was he in prison for? When he was released, was he going to show up at my house? When I told him I was only fifteen, it didn't seem to matter to him After a few more letters, he started filling his notes with romantic overtones again. My mom learned about the letters and demanded that I stop writing him, which I eventually did.
These days, these types of situations are playing out on the Internet as well as through the postal mail. Unsuspecting young people go on-line every day, talking in chatrooms, on message boards and via e-mail. A thirteen-year-old girl can begin chatting with someone who tells her that he is fourteen. After a handful of e-mails, he says he's going to be in town and suggests that they meet. When she meets her online friend, he turns out to be forty-years-old.
"I have something you just have to see back at my hotel room. Why don't we just swing by there and pick it up before we go to lunch," he insists. Once they go back to the hotel room, he may kidnap, sexually assault or even kill her.
HOW DO YOU PREVENT THIS FROM HAPPENING TO YOU?
You may be thinking, "That won't happen to me!" That is probably what every person, who was assaulted by someone they met online last year, thought. Crime is no respecter of persons. The best thing to do is not to be afraid of using the Internet or even chatting and making new friends but to do everything you can to protect yourself.
Here are some tips to do just that:
1. Before Going On-line, Talk With Your Parents About Their Ground Rules For Going On The Internet. I know, you are a teenager. You are at an age where you want to be independent and don't want your parents telling you what to do, but you are going to need your parents to back you up if anything happens. Make sure to discuss such details as when you can go online, how long you can stay online and what activities you can do online. Talking to your parents doesn't mean giving up your privacy, it means that you are coming to an agreement based on trust and understanding. Perhaps you can even teach your parents how to use the Internet.
When your family plans a trip, look up information about the place on the Internet, maybe even plan the trip online. Your parents can make plane, hotel and car reservations online. If you allow your parents to see that you are using the Internet to research your school papers, vacations and using it responsibly, they will allow you to go on-line more often.
2. Encourage Your Parents To Invest In A Program That Will Filter Out Most Offensive Sites. PAX Television Network and Crosswalk.com have programs that will filter out most pornography and offensive sites. Even if you aren't searching for a pornography site, it is not hard to stumble on one. Let's say, you are looking for information on the White House and you type in http://www.whitehouse.com. Bingo! A pornography site. I have even typed the word "teenager" into the Yahoo! search engine, and among the list of possible sites were pornography sites. Not only would your parents feel more comfortable allowing you to surf the Internet, you would be able to browse the Web without hitting any distasteful sites.
3. Never Respond To Hostile, Belligerent, Inappropriate Or Uncomfortable E-mail, Newsgroup Or Chat Messages. Responding to such people will only encourage them. Instead show the messages to your parents. I told you that you were going to need them to back you up.
4. Never Give Out Personal Information. It is vitally important that while chatting on-line that you never reveal your physical address, telephone number, your parents' work address or telephone number or the name or location of your school. When I give someone an address on-line, for whatever reason, I always give them my Post Office Box address. If you do a lot of shopping or chatting on-line or corresponding with people in prison, a Post Office Box will keep your mail and you safe. Without a physical address, prisoners and on-line friends can't just show up at your doorstep.
5. Never Send A Person Your Picture Or Anything Else Without Discussing It With Your Parents. If your on-line friend sees a picture of you, he could come to your city and track you down because he knows what you look like.
6. Never Give Out Your Internet Password To Anyone, Including Your Best Friends. This doesn't include your parents, however. You should change your password often to prevent anyone from trying to figure it out.
7. Never Go Alone To See Someone You "Met" On-line. You don't know for certain if the person you have been chatting with is who he says he is. If someone you have been communicating on-line with suggests that you meet face-to-face, immediately talk to one or both of your parents about it.
If your parents agree to a meeting with your on-line friend, remember to follow these tips:
∑ Have your parents talk to your on-line friendís parents before the meeting. It may be embarrassing, but it may save you from making a fatal mistake.
∑ Arrange to meet in a public place. For instance, a mall or a coffee shop. Preferably one that you are familiar with and where many people frequent.
∑ Never go alone. Bring one or both of your parents to the first meeting.
God has a plan for your life. You have a wonderful future ahead of you. Do you want to throw it away by being at the wrong place at the wrong time? If you donít, then remember how to protect yourself while on-line.