We live at a time when computers are in our schools, libraries, homes - and even in our childrens bedrooms. But we also live at a time in which there are on-line predators preying on our young. Internet Safety Laws The good news is that a federal law has been created to help protect your kids while they are using the Internet. But laws can be broken. The Childrens Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) was designed to keep people from gaining access to your childrens personal information without you knowing about it and agreeing to it first. COPPA requires Web sites to clearly explain their privacy policies and to get parental consent before collecting or using a childs personal information, such as a name, address, phone number, or even their social security number. COPPA also prohibits a site from requiring a child to provide more personal information than necessary to play a game or contest. But even with this law, your childs safety is not guaranteed! In fact, your child's best online protection is you the parent or guardian. That is why it is so important to talk to your child about potential online dangers and to monitor his or her computer use. Online Tools to Protect Your Child While there is no option that comes with a guarantee that your child will be kept away from 100 percent of Internet dangers, there are ways to safeguard. Many of the Internet service providers (ISPs) offer parent-control options to block certain material from your childs computer. There is also software that can help block your childs access to certain sites based on a bad site list that your ISP creates. Filtering programs can block sites from coming in and restrict your childs personal information from being sent online. There are also programs to monitor and track your child's online activity. And as an added safety precaution its a good idea to create a screen name for your child, protecting his or her real identity. Parents - if you are computer-illiterate you need to learn to use one and how to block objectionable material. For safetys sake you probably should keep the computer in a common area, not in individual bedrooms, where you cannot monitor what your child is doing. Share a common e-mail account so you can monitor messages. Bookmark your childs favorite sites for easy access and to avoid mistakes that may take your child to unintended Web sites. Spend time online together to teach your child appropriate online behavior. Posting messages to chat rooms reveals your childs email address to others. Discourage - or even forbid your child from entering private chat rooms; take that a step further and block them from access. Keep a watchful eye on your credit card and phone bills for unfamiliar account charges or telephone numbers and make sure you have caller identification. Should your child tell you of an uncomfortable online exchange, you should take it as a threat against his or her safety. Forward copies of obscene or threatening messages you or your child receives to your Internet service provider or notify the local police. Call the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at (800) 843-5678 if you are aware of the transmission, use, or viewing of child pornography online and contact the police as well. Profile of a pedophile What is a pedophile, you ask? According to New York State Police Computer Crime Unit Investigator Jay Miner, the politically correct term is a preferential sexual offender. These are people who are addicted to child pornography, Miner said. Their addiction is often accelerated by the Internet to the point where they want to make actual contact, he explained. Sitting in front of a computer, Miner pulled up a screen showing a typical room where a pedophile had lived the images were too horrendous to even begin to describe. It appeared the person spent every waking moment in front of his computer not even able to tear himself away long enough to use the bathroom, so he urinated in a plastic bucket. These child predators can be male or female, and of varying social and racial backgrounds, but research shows the typical pedophile is a white male, between 25-45 and single. They usually live with or have emotional ties with their mothers. They are active in the community and are usually college educated and hold good jobs. Youve seen them in the news, these people tend to get involved in youth organizations such as the Boy Scouts or recreational activities or sports, Miner said. And it is usually men who develop an interest in young boys, he said. Not that girls are not targeted as well, but boys are the most common victims of child predators, Miner said.