The internet community is all riled up this week because a dark-humored little internet meme known as "PedoBear" (Yes, that's what it sounds like.) was misunderstood by law enforcement, and some news reporting agencies. Apparently, the police and reporters didn't get the joke. Frankly with humor being a subjective thing, and me being a little older than the typical web-user who keeps up with "internet memes," I have to admit I'm not exactly ROFLMAO at this particular one, either. And I would probably be less-amused if I had young children. I do, however, recognize sarcasm and, realize that, as Adric pointed out, it's pretty unlikely that a real child predator would dress up like a creepy stuffed bear named "PedoBear." The intent is clearly the opposite.
So, what does a child predator look like?
In many cases, they may look just like you - or, more specifically, your family, or neighbors. There is also a pretty good chance they have a good reputation in your community, and just LOVE working with kids (imagine that). Just like everyone else, they're also using the web, often using profiles that make them appear to be one of your child's friends. Or, they may work for Google.
Keep an eye on your kids. Don't expect the school, or the church, or the community center to do your job. Talk with your kids about internet safety, personal safety, boundaries, and friends. Do you best to make sure your kids feel comfortable talking to you about what's going on in their lives, and who they're talking to. Monitor what is happening on your family's computers and phones (Yes, this will make your children angry from time to time. They will get over it).
What if it's too late?
If your child has already been victimized, there are places to get help. For ideas, visit Facts for Families. Again, if you choose to allow your child to enter counseling, go with him or her (see paragraph #3 above). It's very important for your child to understand that what happened is not his or her fault. While whatever occurred maybe shocking and revolting to you, it is also extremely important for your child not to be given the impression that you are angry with him or her. For more ideas on how to start a conversation with your child about this, see Leah Davies' Kelly Bear.
Also see: FBI Parent's Guide to Internet Safety and John Walsh: How Can You Tell If a Child Has Experienced Abuse?
Jennifer Pointer (e-mail) is in Tulsa, OK. She promotes a simple, a low-tech approach to effective online profile management, search engine optimization and social networking.