PIKESVILLE, Md. (WJZ) — Maryland State Police are working to get parents more aware of their childrens’ internet usage to keep them safe online.

Safer Internet Day is on Tuesday, and their efforts for this year’s global rally come as state police see a dramatic spike in online activities from the youth, including sexually explicit content from underage children in the form of sexting, nudes or child pornography, officials said.

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State police urge parents to have a conversation with their children about any content they may create or come across that is sexual. They say this is especially important during the global pandemic as it has minors glued to the screen for leisure and education.

Here are some tips officers offered:

  • Place computers in common areas in the household, as this will make it easier to keep an eye on what they are looking at.
  • Educate yourself on digital devices. This could mean getting better acquainted with smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktop computers. Possibly even with your child’s smartwatch if they have one.
  • Be sure to set reasonable screen time limits with your child.
  • Reinforce the “no talking to strangers” rule, to minimize any danger to your child from online predators.
  • Do not let your child give any personal information online.
  • Put any accounts in your name and learn passwords your child uses, also keeping track of all devices being used. And keep track of your child’s history logs on those devices.

One in five children have been sexually solicited online. About 40% of students in 4th to 8th grade have reported talking to strangers online. 60% of teens have received messages from strangers with half of them having replied, statistics from a Maryland State Police release said.

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The statistics from police also say about 18% of teenagers have even considered in-person meetings with strangers who they have met online. Nearly half of teens admit to going out of their way to hide their online behaviors from their parents. The average age of porn exposure is 11 years old.

Police urge parents to stay vigilant of their children’s online habits. If a child is being exploited, parents should file a complaint with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The Maryland State Police works closely with the center in investigations involving exploited children.

If a child is in any imminent danger parents are urged to call 911 immediately.

Senior Citizens are also vulnerable to online criminals. State police remind them to not share any sensitive information anywhere from forums to emails that look suspicious. Also, to never send any money to any one online and make sure to verify the identity of anyone they talk to online.

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CBS Baltimore Staff