Today’s news in Canada brought some good news besides all the other things we have been learning about with respect to online predators, chat rooms, grooming and luring. Here is the story that was online today:
Hello facebook friends… Some of you have seen my posts recently about a trial in Ohio and until today I haven’t been able to talk about it openly, as I didn’t want to interfere with the case.
So here’s the story, a few months back it came to my attention that an Internet predator was targeting my daughter. I jumped in and took control of her accounts and started a sting operation to determine who this guy was, where he lived, worked, etc, and most importantly what his intentions were. Within 3 days I had a gift wrapped package for the police and turned that package over to his local enforcement who arrested him immediately. I didn’t realize this at the time, just looking out for my daughter afterall, but he had many more kids he was targeting online plus some physical victims as well. In addition, he was sharing information with a ring of guys who were also subsequently arrested.
A couple of weeks ago I went to Ohio to make a statement before the court and his final sentencing was today. He was given a fair sentencing by the courts (22 years) and I know that not only are all of the victims safe now, he’ll be removed from society for the time being and given the treatment he needs for the issues he has.
This whole experience has been humbling, even though I know I did good as a father. I never thought I could have the impact I did but now I want to make sure others don’t have to go through the pain I experienced being exposed to that dark side of society. Parents need to know that there are dangers online and become active in their kids activities.
Throughout this process I’ve been able to talk to a number of parents and they always ask how I was able to catch him and how I watched out for my girls’ safety online. The reason for my message in this post is to spread the word a little to other parents.
To all the parents who may read this, know that it takes minimal effort to watch out for and protect our little ones. A few things you’re already doing, and you’ll be able to ensure their online safety. Afterall, the Internet is a wonderful resource for our kids to learn but it has its risks!
Things you can do to protect your kids:
1) Browser Protection
On my girls’ laptop, desktop, and iPhone Touch is the net nanny software. You don’t have to get that one specifically, but you will want to find a software that monitors what is being viewed online and what content should be blocked and/or filtered. Most software like this allows you to block specific sites if you find there is something inappropriate beyond what the software finds by default. This didn’t help me catch the predator, but it does restrict a good deal of age inappropriate content… Consider this tip a foundation
2) Get usernames and passwords
For the next two tips, you have to determine what is age appropriate for the privacy of your child’s online activity. For me, once they are in high school I will start to allow more personal privacy in their online activities. Until then however, we had a rule that any websites my girls engaged in would require me to have their usernames and passwords.
When it came to catching this predator, this proved invaluable. As soon as I got the email that triggered my ‘spidey sense’ I was able to log in to the social media site he was contacting her through and stop him from reaching my daughter.
3) Monitor Emails
I put both of my daughters’ email addresses as additional mailboxes on my phone. As I have a smartphone – as most of us parents do – it allows me to have push notifications of their emails… Often before they’d see them. I’m always on my phone so it didn’t take much effort to screen their email communications. When I’d see a message from their friends I would ignore it, but when something seemed off I could ‘investigate’. This may have taken 5-10 minutes out of my day to look at my phone, but c’mon let’s be honest, we’re looking at our phones anyway.
This was the tip that helped the most in this case. It was an email that seemed inappropriate that alerted me to this guy’s true intentions and I was able to then control the situation and protect my daughter.
The last tip is the most important and certainly the one that will help protect your child more than any of the previous tips. We need to communicate with our kids. There needs to be safe communication which is a two way street. If kids don’t feel safe to talk about what’s happening in their lives, they will not come to you with the tough questions and won’t answer honestly when asked one of those same questions. In this case, my daughter was incredible as soon as it came to light what this guy was doing. He had pretended to be closer to her age and built a good connection with her by the time I stepped in. She was betrayed and hurt but did everything she could to cooperate in catching this guy. That only came about because we had a very open communication where she felt she could talk about anything she struggled with, even if it felt ‘shameful’.
Talk to your kids! Obviously we need to provide boundaries and rules, but we need to have an open two way communication with our children that makes them feel safe to tell us when something is potentially wrong. And they need to feel like they can ask anything.
It’s a big world online, and don’t kid yourself, they will be exposed to something you don’t want them to. But as parents who take an active role in their kids’ lives, it can be a rewarding experience for them. For a little effort on our part we can ensure that happens.
Thanks for all the support and love from my family members at this time! I have been conflicted and hurt through this process but I’m also proud to be a ‘hero’ to my girls. Our biggest hope is that others who hear this story will apply the tips – and other tips that I may not have mentioned or am even aware of – to ensure their kids embrace the online world for what it can be and to shield them from what it sadly can also be.
For those of you who know my daughter, she’s doing very well. I’ve seen such a maturity in her throughout this process, from her cooperation with the police interviews to the growth in her self-esteem since it first came to light. She is an incredible woman at a young age. Thankfully, this was caught before it escalated with her but we are also sympathetic to those victims of this case who weren’t as fortunate. Our hearts go out to them… Hopefully this post will stop future children from experiencing the same.
Thank you all for your time and please share this message to any parents you know.
Here is a link to the news story from CityNews tonight… so happy they helped us get the message out to more parents and their kids:
We also got featured on CBC News Network and The National tonight, helping us spread the word to many more parents! We feel blessed to be a part of getting this message out to people.