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AUGUSTA, GA. (WRDW/WAGT) — The surge in internet traffic during social distancing and stay at home orders have created serious problems, and it’s not slow WiFi. The FBI reports seeing an uptick in the number of predators online talking to children.
People have resorted to going online for everything now — from work and school to grocery shopping and entertainment. Children are doing the same too, which is why parents have to be more watchful than ever.
Work deadlines and bored children are as frustrating as work deadlines and slow internet.
Dr. John Degarmo knows the struggle.
“Let me get my kids off the phone.”
He too is working from home … with a house full of children. Dr. Degarmo’s life is his family, and his work is other people’s families.
“Children right now are spending more and more time online due to self-containment,” Degarmo said. “Kids are home 24 hours and if they are not online doing their school work, looking for entertainment, they’re online talking to friends, they’re online playing games. What many don’t recognize is child predators are using this time of coronavirus to target these children.”
The FBI reports a recent uptick in online predators targeting children.
The I-TEAM found the FBI posted this warning in the last few days:
“Due to school closings as a result of COVID-19, children will potentially have an increased online presence and/or be in a position that puts them at an inadvertent risk,” Degarmo said.
The FBI arrested a Macon man on child sex crimes just this Friday after receiving multiple cyber tips.
Local FBI agents tell the I-TEAM they’ve seen an uptick too in cyber tips.
“The parents aren’t watching what their children are accessing. They’re not watching who their children are communicating with,” Degarmo said. “The parents are watching what games they’re playing, the same games online that child predators are using as well.”
Dr. Degarmo says abused and neglected children are the most vulnerable too.
“These children being abused being neglected are also going to go online looking for some type of relief looking for some type of support looking for someone, ‘I’ll be your friend’ and those are the predators the child predators,” he said.
A recent I-TEAM investigation showed just how quickly it can happen too. It only took six minutes for someone on the app ‘Whisper’ proposition us for “work.”
“They need to check out every night who the child has been talking to, what games the child has been playing, what social media has that child been using what app that child is using, and most importantly, who is reaching out to their child in a venue of a friend,” Degarmo said.
Pre-coronavirus and social distancing research shows one in five children have received a sexual solicitation online, while only 15 percent of parents are in the know with what their children are doing online.
“Parents like myself are at home working yet they need to take the time to stop what they’re doing to focus on the most important aspect of their life their family members,” Degarmo said.
Dr. Degarmo says one way to limit screen time is by sticking to a schedule every day. Slot screentime but also schedule time outdoors or learning a new skill, like cooking.
“Parents need to be vigilant be consistently vigilant and watch what their children are accessing,” Degarmo said.
That can be done by: Limiting screen time – especially for younger children. Plug up the device in a family room and not a child’s bedroom. Only allow children to talk to known family and friends. And feel free to be nosey.
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