Recently, Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office arrested a person who allegedly “...contacted the minors via Facebook and developed an online relationship which eventually led to direct contact and a sexual relationship.” See: Suspect Uses Facebook to Lure Minors for Sex Unfortunately, this story isn’t unusual in today’s online world.
Researchers from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently published their conclusions in an investigative analysis of the influence of social media on children. The study found that over 20 percent of teens use social media sites at least 10 times per day. In addition, 75 percent of teens possess cell phones. While it is true that social media sites have many benefits because they provide access to information and help kids to hone their communication skills, there are significant threats to our children on the internet which also should be considered.
According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, in 82% of online sex crimes against minors, the victim’s social networking site was used by the predator to gain information about the child; and 65% of offenders used these sites to find out the where the child lived and went to school. E-mail, instant messaging, social networking sites like Facebook, chat rooms and gaming sites are all used by child predators to lure and groom children for sexual conquest.
Teens and Tweens are at a time of their lives when they are trying to establish their identity and self-worth. Because they are at such a vulnerable stage emotionally, online cyberbullying can have a devastating effect. All too often a major news story is released about a teenager committing suicide because of cyberbullying. Among other potential dangers unique to the internet is “Facebook depression” caused by “de-friending” and other bullying tactics. A child’s subjection to sexting and other types of unsuitable material pose very real threats to a child who may be the target of an online predator.
As a concerned parent, it is important for you to be aware of some specific warning signs that your child may be in contact with an online predator. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation’s pamphlet, “A Parent’s Guide to Internet Safety”, some of these warning signs are:
Spending large amounts of time online, especially at night
Children are most at risk during the evening hours or on weekends as most child predators work during the day. Chat rooms are a common place for an offender to try to connect with a child. Parents should be aware about the amount of time their child spends on line, especially in chat rooms.
Your child is downloading pornography on their computer
Introducing a child to porn is the way potential sex offenders create an opening for discussing sex with the child as a method of grooming the child for future sexual contact.
Makes or receives phone calls from numbers you do not recognize
Most child predators want to talk to the child on the phone, often to have phone sex with them and to set up an actual meeting.
Secretiveness about their online activities.
Changes screens or turns off computer when an adult enters the room.
Obsessiveness about being online and becoming angry when prevented from being online.
Receives mail or gifts from someone you do not know
It is a common practice for sexual predators to send gifts, letters and pictures to their potential victims as part of the grooming process.
Withdrawal from family and friends
It is important for parents to know that sexual predators know how to come between the child and their family by sympathizing with the child over minor disagreements or family problems and by pretending to be interested in the particular interests of the child. (Withdrawal is also common after a child has become an actual sexual victim.)
What Can a Parent Do To Minimize the Risk of Their Child Being The Target of a Predator?
The most important way you can minimize your child’s risk of being a victim of internet predators is to keep honest communication open between you and your child. Let them know that “stranger danger” is just as real on the internet as it is elsewhere, and that bad things can happen if they communicate online with someone they do not know. Just as you make sure you know who your child’s friends are, internet friends should be no different. Be aware of which internet sites your child is visiting and let them know that for their safety, you will be checking on who is communicating with them on Facebook and other internet sites. Establish rules for internet use in your home.
Internet predators work in secret and try to isolate the child from his or her family. Keeping the computer out in the open in a common family area reduces the likelihood that someone can establish an inappropriate relationship with them. Educate your child that pop-ups promising free gifts if they click on a link are often a way to obtain personal information. Photo sharing between Facebook friends is a favorite activity. Make sure you know about the pictures they are posting and that a predator cannot identify the child’s location from the backgrounds in the picture. Make sure you help your child to understand that whatever is posted online can be searched for and retrieved, even years later, and can affect their future in detrimental ways.
This infographic is provided as a courtesy from uKnowKids.com; used with permission.
Internet Monitoring Technology Available to Parents
Technology is now available to parents who want to monitor their children’s online and smartphone activity. The monitoring services vary in what they can do, but there are several choices available. The following are five of the top services, but a Google search will list many more:
Web Watcher: PC Magazine lists this as Editor’s Choice for parental monitoring software; also winner of Reader’s Choice Award for 2011-2015.
Teen Safe: Monitors smart phone and internet activity, including Instagram, WhatsApp and Kik Messenger.
UKnowKids: Includes a Digital Parenting Dashboard
Avira: Monitor friends, activities and photos
Other Monitoring Software Worth Investigating:
Visit the websites below for more information on internet safety: