Law enforcement officials from Central and Upstate New York are growing increasingly concerned with the safety of children as they spend more time online during the pandemic. At a virtual press event, Thomas Relford with the FBI Albany Field Office and other officials said children are vulnerable to predators and even sex trafficking. Relford says it can be difficult to protect children who might be naïve to online dangers.
“We’ve seen an increase in cases both nationally and locally, so it’s more important than ever we help kids understand things aren’t always as they seem online. Although children can quickly master most forms of modern technology, they simply cannot fathom that anyone would use that same technology to harm them. That’s our responsibility.”
Many of the presenters say the first step for protecting children on the internet is for parents to have an open dialogue with their children and to monitor their electronics use. Callahan Walsh of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children echoed this sentiment in his advice to parents.
“Try to understand the technology the best you can. And the best way to do that is to get on the apps yourself, to talk to your children about what apps they’re using, create a profile, friend your daughter or your son, and see what they’re posting on their profile. Second is to set ground rules and stick to them especially if there’s been bad behavior in the past.”
He says all of this can keep kids safer as they spend more time online. Walsh says the numbers are staggering: they saw a 90 percent increase in reports to their cybertip line from January to June compared to the same period in 2019.