We recently talked about a common danger found online, cyberbullying. Unfortunately, that isn’t the whole story. There are several other dangers your children might encounter when surfing the web or playing game consoles that feature video and chat options.
The topic of online child predators was one that I wasn’t even fully prepared for when I first began researching it. It’s the kind of topic that makes me wish I could keep my kids little forever.
But alas, my 6-year-old asked me the dreaded question the other day, “Can I have a cell phone so I can play games too?” Of course the answer was no, but in just a few short years she will be asking again and I probably will be warily answering “yes.”
As parents we feel assured knowing that our kids are secure inside the home. We are well aware of the dangers children have to face when we send them out into the world. Just last year, with my daughter entering kindergarten, I had to have the “no touching private parts” conversation.
But there are dangers even when our children are at home, so I feel it is so important that we all inform ourselves of what to look out for when it comes to online child predators in the here-to-stay “digital age.”
Who are Online Child Predators?
Child predators can be male or female; they can target boys, girls or both; they can be known to your child or, more commonly, they can be complete strangers. The allure of being anonymous and hiding behind fake messaging names, profiles, etc., keeps a child predator coming back for more.
A report at FBI.gov says there are two types of predators: those who aim to meet their victims face to face; and those who collect and trade pornographic images of children without ever meeting them. Both can be damaging to children.
What You Need to Know
- A 1999 study by the Crimes Against Children Research Center found that one in 33 youth had received an aggressive sexual solicitation in the past year, meaning a predator asked a young person to meet somewhere, called a young person on the phone, and/or sent the young person correspondence, money or gifts through the mail.
- The research center also found that only 25 percent of children who encountered a sexual approach or solicitation told a parent or adult.
- Many predators will pretend to be the same age as their victim in hopes of gaining the child’s trust. (FBI.gov)
- The more information your child posts online, such as sports they play or the school they attend, will give a predator precious and vital background knowledge. Due to the easy access your child is providing, a predator will seek out a child or teen with minimal privacy restrictions on information and pictures they upload. “For a pedophile, that personal information is like gold and can be used to establish a connection and gain a child’s trust,” according to a story on FBI.gov.
- Child predators will reach out to vulnerable children who may be sharing that they are having a difficult time at home or in school. The predator will use this knowledge to their advantage offering condolences and a shoulder to lean on. The process is called grooming. (FBI.gov)
- Parry Aftab, a leader in cyber law, reports that 1 in 4 US teen girls and 1 in 3 boys admitted to meeting a stranger they had met online (SCARY!).
Where are Online Child Predators?
Anywhere your kids are. They aren’t looking for children on the online stock reports or local news sites. Predators are looking for children on social media sites, chat rooms, forums, messaging apps for phones and tablets, cell phones, and even gaming consoles that have video and chat features. Predators are well-versed in the tactics of manipulation, and they know where to find your child and which kids will be easy targets.
Tips to Keep Your Child From Becoming a Victim
- The most important thing to realize is that it really could be your kid who falls victim to a child predator. ALL children, not just the shy kids or the ones from broken homes, are at risk.
- It’s critical to talk with your children about the dangers that exist online. Children need to know that they cannot share personal information online or with strangers, and that they should NEVER meet someone face-to-face that they have talked to online.
- REPEAT, REPEAT, REPEAT. Just because you have talked with your kids about the dangers of online predators once doesn’t mean it was enough. Keep talking, asking, and even role play scenarios with your child. Help them to understand what they need to look out for, such as someone who wants them to send inappropriate pictures, or who wants to meet them, or strangers who say they love them or are overly nice.
- The biggest danger for our children is being naive and trusting of people online. Explain to your kids that strangers may even pretend to be a child their age. Talk openly with your child and take an interest in your child’s online life.
- I can’t say it enough: Tell your children to NEVER give out their phone number or address to anyone online.
Warning Signs Your Child May Already Be A Victim
- Your child spends a lot of time on the Internet and may become angry when she is not allowed on the computer.
- Your child shows signs of depression and withdrawal from friends and family.
- Gifts arrive in the mail from people you do not know. Also finding a camera, cell phone, or web cam that you KNOW you didn’t buy is a red flag.
- Phone numbers that you don’t recognize on your child’s cell phone or home phone.
- Finding inappropriate images on the computer, or your child turning the screen off or away from you when you enter the room.
Where to Report If Your Child Has Become a Victim
Call your local law enforcement if you suspect your child has been a victim. Remember, your child can be a victim even if he hasn’t met a predator in person.
One parent said she discovered a camera that someone sent her daughter in the mail. She found it very suspicious, but she didn’t report it to the police, because she assumed they would just turn her away, not knowing what to do with a piece of information like that. NOT TRUE: Law enforcement has been working diligently to help keep our kids safe from online dangers.
You can also report child predators online at the Cyber Tipline.
For even more tips and great discussion starters, check out Netsmartz .org
Have you talked with your child about staying safe online? Share in the comments.