With 93% of teens ages 12 to 17 spending time online regularly, internet safety and the threat of online predators need to be taken seriously.
According to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, one in 25 children ages 10 to 17 report having received an online sexual solicitation where the solicitor tried to make offline contact.
Make no mistake - these people are online predators and these numbers are more than sobering, but it is important we recognize the situation for what it is. No, we as mamas, cannot be watching over our child’s shoulder every time he or she is on their phone, iPad or laptop. Beyond teaching our children strong morals, guiding them to only use appropriate websites and warning them of the threat of online predators, there are a few additional things we can do to go the extra mile. While sometimes it might be nice to say “ignorance is bliss” and try to forget the dangers that lie in chat rooms and on gaming websites, the reality is that in today's world our kids need more protection than that.
Today we are going to discuss how these types of predators operate and teach you how to reduce the risk of your child being victimized as well as guide you on what to do if you suspect your child has been in contact with an online predator.
How do online predators operate?
Due to the prevalence of social networking, blogs, chatrooms, email and the other many online forums, predators have an easy time finding children to target. According to the Microsoft report on online predators, these conversations often start out innocently – discussing hobbies and interests that they know will appeal to kids. These individuals try to lure the children by building trust – listening to their problems, providing sympathy and offering attention, affection, kindness and sometimes gifts. Microsoft reports that this process of building a relationship allows the predator to “try and ease young people’s inhibitions by gradually introducing sexual content into their conversations or by showing them sexually explicit material.” As the discussions and conversations escalate, it is possible that the predator is evaluating the children they are targeting to see if they would be willing for a future face-to-face meeting. The Internet Safety 101 statistics provided by Enough is Enough, reports that “Four percent of all youth internet users received aggressive sexual solicitations which threatened to spill over into ‘real life.’ These solicitors asked to meet the youth in person, called them on the telephone or sent offline mail, money or gifts.”
How can you reduce the risk of your child being victimized?
Microsoft’s Safety & Security Center shares many small and yet important actions you can take to help keep your children safe from online predators. First of all, be honest with your kids about the threat that strangers can pose online. Enforce a family-wide Internet Safety Gameplan and also activate the computer safety settings on your computer and internet browsers. While chatrooms are good to avoid in general, if your teenager is participating in one, stay knowledgeable about who they are talking to and what they are talking about. Yes, your child will probably fight back in defense their privacy, but their safety is most important. An easy way to keep an eye on what kind of computer activity is occurring is to keep computers and electronics in a common area in the house. A predator will have a much harder time building a relationship with your child if the computer is easy for you to see. Guiding your kids to never respond to instant messages or emails from strangers is also important. Go the extra step to check the computer safeguards used at the library, school or even at friends’ homes. Remember that as the parent, you get to set the rules. Set internet time limits, use email filters, guide your children to use non-gender specific usernames and never allow them to meet with someone they have met online.
What should you do if you suspect your child has been contacted by an online predator?
While we would like to hope that if we follow all of the aforementioned steps that we will be able to ensure our children’s safety, there are some things we may not catch. If you are suspicious of your child being contacted by an online predator it is important for you to record as much information as possible. Microsoft’s Safety & Security Center guides you to contact the police immediately if your child receives sexually explicit photos or is solicited sexually via email, instant messaging, etc. Be sure to document usernames, email addresses, website addresses and any chat logs including the date and time of the activity. Scanning your computer for pornographic files or any type of sexual communications is also advised as it is a clear warning sign. If you are looking for additional resources, you can review the FBI’s Parent Guide to the Internet, the Missing Kids CyberTipline or the NetSmartz Workshop.
Internet Safety 101 reports that the majority of victims of internet-initiated sex crimes are between 13 and 15 years old. While 75% of these victims are girls, 25% are boys. We must remember that both genders are potential targets and all children, no matter how innocent, mature or intelligent, need to be educated on the risks of online predators. We cannot deny the prevalence of the internet in our children’s world but we must educate them and do our very best to protect them.