We’ve got to break it to you. If you have kids on social media, you have to start thinking about the reality of online predators.
It’s comforting to assume our kids would never be in danger but that thought just isn’t realistic.
There are 500,000 predators lurking online every single day.
Let’s put it another way. There are half a million people that pose a danger to kids every day and the problem isn’t going away.
We know it’s a terrifying thought but take it from the FBI.
As many as 1 in 7 kids and teens are contacted by an online predator.
Kids aged 12 to 15 are the most targeted by online predators.
Receiving sexual images is the most common goal of web predators.
Over 80% of child sex crimes start on social media.
Let’s be clear! The situation isn’t hopeless and the solution isn’t to pull your kids off social media immediately. The point is that, as parents, we can’t put an effective solution in place without understanding the sobering reality we’re facing.
Now that we’ve laid the foundation, let’s get to the burning question.
What can you do to protect your kid from online predators?
1. Talk to Your Kids.
Think about it. Your kid won’t know how to recognize the signs of a predator without your help!
These exploiters work by disguising their identity (often as young teens of the opposite sex) and then target kids showing signs of loneliness and low self-esteem online. They’ll make contact and establish a relationship by showering them with compliments. To your kid, this sudden attention will feel incredible, and they’ll continue investing in the relationship without realizing the danger it poses.
As a parent, you can help protect your kid by having an honest conversation to educate them.
Talk to them openly about the ways sexual predators groom their victims and the dangers involved in engaging with online strangers.
Acknowledge that it’s normal to feel good when receiving compliments but remind them that this new “friend” probably doesn’t have their best interest at heart.
Encourage them to use lots of caution when talking with a stranger online because the internet makes it extremely easy to pretend to be someone else.
2. Discuss Risky Behavior.
Let’s be honest.
It’s normal for kids to feel curious about uncomfortable topics, like sex, as they get older. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with this, the danger begins when kids turn to online sources for answers and discussion. This is the exact type of behavior predators are looking for because they want to make contact with kids who are especially vulnerable to manipulation.
The easiest way to prevent this as a parent is to be proactive.
Sit down and have age appropriate conversations about topics like sex.
Let them know you are always open to discussing these things, even if it feels awkward at first.
Educate them about the dangers of taking advice from online strangers. It is crucial because this is the behavior predators look for to establish a relationship.
3. Spell Out a Risky Relationship.
Let’s pause and reflect for a moment.
Will our kids know what a risky relationship looks like on their own? They won’t (especially if the relationship they’re developing is one of their first)! This makes your kid particularly vulnerable to the expert manipulation of an online predator because they don’t have a healthy baseline to compare it to. The sudden attention and compliments they’re receiving will keep them blind to the fact that they're experiencing sexual exploitation.
As a parent, you can help your kid by having an honest conversation.
Talk to them about healthy vs unhealthy relationships and give specific examples.
Go over unhealthy risks like demands to perform sexual acts or send explicit images.
Help them recognize when they’re pressured to do something they don’t want to do.
Discuss why an online stranger would want to keep their interactions a secret and teach them to recognize this as one of the signs of a predator.
4. Warn Them About Online Flirting.
Remember what we covered before!
It’s normal for your kid to feel good about themselves when they receive sudden attention online. As expert manipulators, predators know exactly how to exploit this and keep your kid engaged in the conversation. These encounters start with seemingly harmless compliments but quickly escalate into a conversation about explicit topics.
You can protect your kid by sitting down and talking with them about the dangers of online flirting.
Acknowledge that it is fun but explain how quickly a conversation can turn from harmless to predatory. Give specific examples of what this looks like.
Teach them that talking about what they’re wearing (or not wearing) with an online stranger isn’t harmless flirting but a gateway for a prospective exploiter.
Clearly lay out what acceptable online behavior does and doesn’t look like.
Empower them to block anyone who crosses that line or makes them uncomfortable.
5. Bring Up Sexy Selfies.
Let’s face it.
Selfies are never going away and there’s nothing inherently wrong with them. In fact, your kid can get a boost of self confidence from seeing a picture of themselves that they like.
The problem is that taking a selfie can quickly progress from an innocent snapshot to an explicit image, especially when there’s external pressure from a predator. Once they’ve contacted your kid and made them feel special with compliment, online predators are experts at pushing them to take more and more provocative pictures of themselves.
The thing is, kids may not realize they’re being manipulated until it’s too late. They need you to get involved and have a conversation with them.
Teach your kid how easy it is for a predator to screenshot or share an explicit image without their knowledge.
Remind them to think before taking or sending a picture! Would they want their family members to see this?
Make it clear that if someone asks for a provocative picture, they’ve crossed a line. Your child has to stop typing, log off, and tell a trusted adult to protect themselves.
6. Tell Your Kid That They Can Always Talk to You.
Out of all the other steps you can take to protect your kid, this is the most important one.
When dealing with online predators, they need connection with you just as much as education. As parents, it can be easy to think that one extensive conversation is all it takes to help them protect themselves from predators. It’s also tempting to assume our kids always know how much we love them without explicitly communicating it. The truth is, this isn’t enough.
Get over this hurdle by finishing every conversation up the same way.
Make it clear that you want them to come to you with any questions or worries.
Let them know that they can tell you anything and you won’t get mad even if they’ve broke a rule.
Remind them of your unconditional love and support.
Tell them this isn’t a one time conversation and that you’re always there for them.
We know this can feel like a lot but it’s vital to get involved and start talking about this now. Following these steps can help your kid recognize and end all contact with an online predator early on!
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