Nathan Hager, wtop.com
WASHINGTON – Most schools have let out for the summer and a lot of families are looking forward to vacations, day camps and all the fun of warm months.
But along with the fun, there’s a bit of a dark side this time of year.
“Our call volumes have gone up and our case load is going up,” says John Walsh, longtime host of “America’s Most Wanted.”
“Crime goes up, and predators know that kids are out on vacation, parents go traveling and let their guards down.”
And the threat from predators, Walsh says, is broader than it was when he created the Alexandria-based National Center for Missing and Exploited Children following the 1981 kidnapping and murder of his son, Adam.
“The Internet is their private hunting ground. They’re looking to groom kids. They don’t care if the kid is wealthy, poor, whatever,” Walsh says.
Many parents install filters and other restrictions on their home computers, but Walsh notes that kids also can access the Internet through smartphones, tablets and gaming consoles.
“Ninety percent of kids will say to me, ‘I’m much more sophisticated than my parents, and you know what? I get creepy messages periodically but I’m afraid to tell my parents about them because my mom is going to take my iPad away,'” Walsh says.
Walsh suggests talking with kids about placing limits on mobile Internet access as well.
In terms of staying safe in the real world (if kids can be pried from the Internet), Walsh has some suggested ground rules for parents:
- If parents become separated from kids in a public place, children should know to seek out a uniformed police officer or security guard. If they can’t find one, they should look for a mother with children of her own.
“Don’t go to a man. Nothing wrong with men. Men want to help, but go to a mom with kids. A mom with kids will always want to help your child,” Walsh says.
- And before a child has a sleepover with a friend this summer, parents should make sure they know who lives in that friend’s house, and that the adults in the home have clean criminal records.
The bottom line Walsh has for parents is for them to, in his words, “parent up.”
“Your job is to get those kids safe to 18, and then they can do whatever they want,” Walsh says.
(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)