Police ask for parents' help stopping online predators - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Police ask for parents' help stopping online predators

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WATERLOO (KWWL) -

Twelve-year-old Allison Stuenkel spends a fair amount of time every day on the internet.

"I like to go on Google and look up stuff and go on you tube," she said.

It's not just to "Google" either, she and her younger brother Elliott are often doing homework and research online-- but only on websites.

"That we know are child friendly, that they're safe, they're sites we've looked into. Any site that has a password we make sure we talk to them ahead of time about that," said Allison's father Mark Stuenkel.

Allison follows her parent's internet rules and only goes on "approved" sites, but she has learned the hard way. One wrong click can lead her to sites she never wanted to visit.

"I don't purposely go on it, it's like a pop-up ad and I accidentally click on it and then I see something I wish I didn't see," she said.

Mark, and his wife Amy, realize it's not only pop-up ads they have to worry about.

"Time flies quickly, and to think I almost have a teenage daughter, it's exciting and scary at the same time," he said.

Soon, they'll have to face a certain social network.

"I can't go on Facebook until I'm 13. But I'm really excited because I can chat with all my friends," said Allison.

Allison's friends aren't the only ones wanting to chat with her online. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, 82 percent of online sex crimes begin on social networking sites. For example, they request to add the teen as a friend, and begin sending messages. Eventually, like what happened in a recent Waterloo case, they might ask the child to meet them in person. Here's a scary statistic for parents -- 14 percent of students in 10th through 12th grades say, they've accepted an invitation to meet that stranger face-to-face.

"Years ago, we were always teaching our kids stranger danger. That's still a concern, but the strangers are entering our houses through the internet," said Waterloo Director of Safety Services Dan Trelka.

Waterloo police have a special team in place to investigate internet crimes against children. But they ask parents to help them crack down on offenders by staying vigilant in their own homes.

"We don't recommend allowing children to have internet access in the bedroom. It should be in the living room, in the kitchen, in a place where the family commonly meets," said Trelka.

The Stuenkles keep their computer within eye shot of the kitchen. And they believe, open communication between themselves and their children is the best tool for preventing problems.

"It's something we work on daily, but it's well worth it," said Stuenkel.

Allison likes that her parents trust her to surf the web without constantly sitting over her shoulder, and as far as the restrictions on what she can view?

"I'm kind of happy at least they care," she said.

Facebook does have special restrictions in place for users who are 13 through 17, blocking their name from coming up in an online search. The company also works with law enforcement to provide information in emergency situations, or if someone is in immediate danger. You can find more tools and information about social network safety on Facebook's website.

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