The digital world has provided a platform for predators to reach children more easily and with greater speed than most of us can image. It is important to begin with a strong message: It is our job, as adults, to keep our children safe. It is not the job of a child to keep themselves safe from predators. As caregivers, we can provide boundaries for our children to minimize the risk and create relationships with them to ask questions and welcome us into their online experiences.
To begin, here are some myths we need to set straight.
Did you know: Perpetrators are most often known to victims.
9 out of 10 children who are sexually abused know their abuser. That means most children who experience abuse are abused by someone they know – NOT a stranger. –Source
Adults within your family or others who provide care for your children need to be respectful of boundaries created by you and your children. Teach your children to identify if something feels comfortable or uncomfortable and support them by allowing them to say NO to spending time one on one with anyone – adult or older youths especially. Minimize the opportunity for abuse to occur by creating situations that are observable and interruptible. Secrets are not okay.
Image Source: Rainn.org
Did you know: Children and youth can be perpetrators too.
Adults are not the only ones who exhibit sexual predatory behaviors. Journalist Sarah Plake from KSHB 41 News reports the following:
[Jennifer] Hansen [a child abuse pediatrician] and [Heidi] Olson says they’re noticing kids are being exposed to porn at very young ages, around 4 or 5 years-old. They say a child can develop unrealistic and dangerous ideas about intimate relationships by being exposed to violent, graphic porn.
“We know that it’s probably multi-factorial. I think there are lots of things that contribute to this, but that is the question; How are we, as a society, failing in such a way that we have 11, 12, and 14-year-old boys, primarily, committing violent sexual assaults?” Hansen said. –Source
Did you know: “Normal looking” people can be dangerous too.
When we explain to children that strangers may trick you into approaching their vehicle for candy, or that they might kidnap or attack you in a shadowy alley way, we do them a disservice by not teaching them that a predator could look like your Aunt Sally or your teacher Mr. Jones. “Normal-looking” strangers can be just as dangerous as the ones portrayed on tv crime shows and box-office movies.
Did you know: Online access to your children gives Predators a variety of ways to hurt your children.
We do our children a disservice if we do not explain to them that predators can hurt you through your cell phone, gaming system, or other device that has access to the Internet.
Online predators are individuals who commit child sexual abuse that begins or takes place on the Internet (Wikipedia). They are not just individuals trying to meet up with a child – your child – in real life for sex, though that could be their goal.
Or, their goal could be to not meet in-person. They might try sending your child inappropriate photos, texting vulgar and over-sexualized messages, or talking your child into sending them a photo of themselves. All of these scenarios are ones you should discuss with your child.
So now that we’ve debunked some myths, how do you protect your child from online predators? Here are 7 ways.
7 Ways to Protect Your Children From Online Predators
Protection #1: Start early – 8 is great. Earlier is better!
There’s a phrase we use in the office when referring to when parents/caregivers should start talking to their children about sex. “Eight is great!” we say. The same is true for talking about our bodies, our boundaries, and other actions that involve sex, such as pornography.
If you can start with your child earlier, this is even better. This might be uncomfortable. But it is fact that your child will hear about sex and pornography at a young age, and if you can provide a number of years before that point where you are talking to them openly about the topic and providing your own perspective, that is what will stick with your child.
If you aren’t sure how to talk to your young child about porn, here is a great article for how to start the conversation early: How To Talk To A 5 Year-Old About Porn. We also have a list of great books that you can request from us – in both Spanish and English
Our Let’s Talk Training can also help you with how to talk to your children about difficult topics, like sex. See when our next Let’s Talk Training is here.
Protection #2: Teach your child how to respond to uninvited digital dangers
What happens if your child receives a nude photo via text? What happens if they come across porn? What happens if they are asked by a stranger to meet offline, in real life, or to send a photo of themselves? What happens if that person is REALLY persuasive? Do you know what your child would say?
Parents need to spend time with their children teaching them how to respond. We can’t assume our children know what to do in dangerous situations. Here are some ways you can make sure your child is prepared for how to respond to uninvited online dangers:
- Practice with a Worksheet – Ignore, Delete, Respond, Tell an Adult
- Learn through a Video – Learn Through a Video
Protection #3: Keep devices in public areas. No secrets.
This one doesn’t require much explanation. Studies show that risky behaviors happen in secret. Reducing risk requires openness and transparency.
Wondering what are the most dangerous places for your child to be online? Check out this article: 5 Most Dangerous Places For Kids To Be Online.
Protection #4: Be aware of the apps your child is using. Gentle curiosity is best!
Being aware is the first step. Deciding what to do with that awareness is totally up to you. Some parents and caregivers work on creating a family digital media contract. Some families require permission for any downloads before they can take place. Some families require children to allow their parents to follow them on any social media profile they have.
One thing we really strive to do at iRespect&Protect is not apply a one-size-fits-all approach to our advice. Do what feels right for your family. Do what feels right to keep your children safe.
If you are not sure what apps your child might be using or downloading, check out our Top Apps To Be Aware of document. Then, talk to your child about what apps they like the best, which ones they don’t like, and why they do or do not like them.
You can also read reviews for most popular social media, video, photo, lifestyle, and gaming apps used by kids today: Apps Explained.
Protection #5: Parental controls and private accounts only go so far.
You should have parental controls set up for your children. You should also make sure your children’s accounts are set to private. But you shouldn’t SOLELY rely on these methods.
The above suggestions will ensure you are preparing your family for the dangers of online predators.
If you are not sure how your protection methods are measuring up, try our quiz: How Protected Is Your Child?
Looking for monitoring apps and parental control help? Check out these resources:
- Setting up parental controls for every digital device
- Bark App – best parental control monitoring app
- Hicanopy App – parental control app & real time internet filter
Protection #6: When you think your child is ready, teach your child what predators might say to them.
You don’t teach children to not run into the street by instilling fear at a young age. If we did, they’d never want to explore and grow! When the time is right, here are some ideas that may be appropriate to share with your child to help them understand that when you can’t be there, they are capable of figuring out who is safe and who is not.
Protect Young Eyes gives a variety of examples. Read these with your elementary or middle school children.
Tricky people are people who I don’t know who are very nice to me. Some of the most dangerous people on the internet are also some of the nicest people on the internet. “You’re very pretty. Has anyone ever told you that before?”
Tricky people are people who I don’t know who ask me questions. They want to know things about me so that I will trust them. “What things do you like? Do your parents ever make you mad?”
Tricky people might invite me to use a different, more secret platform. “What’s your Snap name? Can we talk more over there?”
Tricky people are people who might seem a little pushy when I try to stop talking to them. “Hey, why won’t you respond? Don’t be mean to me like this.”
Tricky people ask me to keep things a secret. “Just keep this between us.” Tell your kids there’s no such thing as a good digital secret.
Tricky people might offer you gifts for no reason. “Do you have a Venmo account? I want to send you some money as an early Christmas present.”
Tricky people might threaten me so that I’ll do something I don’t want to do. “Send me nudes or I’ll tell your parents something bad about you.”
Tricky people are intently looking for kids who express any type of emotional distress. When they see kids posting about having a bad day, hating their parents, experiencing a break-up, that’s when they sweep in with empathy and understanding. “Oh, my parents are the worst, too. What happened?” –Source
Protection #7: Recognize the value in technology for your child
Whether you agree with your family or friends on the right age for a child’s first cell phone or video game console or next best computer, your child is living in a digital world. Recognizing how important technology is to their lives is pivotal to ensuring your child doesn’t feel like you don’t support them.
We have heard the following statements from youth in regards to technology:
- Video games have made me a more compassionate person.
- Staying connected has helped me get through my depression.
- I’ve met friends that care about me.
Supporting your child in their endeavors includes supporting them in their online endeavors too. Our children need our support in all aspects of their lives, not just the parts WE think are important for them.
Sexual abuse is preventable. Predators are out there – both in the world and especially online – and there are actions we can take to make sure they do not get to our children.
Starting early, setting boundaries, teaching how to respond, and supporting our children in their endeavors allows our relationships with our children to grow and thrive. And with a strong relationship comes strong protection.
How to report online predators
The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children is available for you to report a cyber report. You can do by visiting their website and MAKING A CYBERTIPLINE REPORT.
You can also call them 24 hours a day at 1-800-THE-LOST