2020 has been a year, amiright? While we have been limited in our physical contact with friends and family, thankfully the Internet has kept us in touch. Children are on computers more and more with schooling online and face timing with friends. In my unofficial survey of my circle of mom friends, all of our kid’s screen time has greatly increased. However with this amazing connectivity that we have at our fingertips, there are many hidden dangers. Online predators are getting smarter at ways to contact our children. Is your child safe online? Do you know what to look for to keep your child safe?
Who are Online Predators?
Many parents think that online predators are just creepy old guys sending inappropriate messages in chat rooms. Unfortunately, long gone are the days of typical AOL chat rooms with people asking A/S/L (age/sex/location for those too young to remember). Online predators are cunning and clever, they make up entire personas complete with fake profiles and pictures. These pictures are often stolen from other children on the Internet so they look “normal”. These profiles look as real as your child’s and frequently don’t appear to to raise red flags. In my opinion, it is important to monitor your child’s contact with anyone online, but especially those whom they do not know in person. Make sure the things they are being asked seem appropriate and that they are not sending photos, no matter how innocent it may seem. Also, keep photos and profiles private so predators cannot use your child's information.
Friends Aren't Always What They Seem
Additionally, it is important to keep checking up on your child’s online friends, as it may take them a while to “set the stage” before they start bringing up inappropriate topics. This process is frequently called grooming. They earn the child’s trust before they request their true desires. This time period can range from a few days to over a year. It is truly remarkable how much time is devoted to building a child's trust.
Online predators are after a number of things, sometimes its just inappropriate photos, other times it is actual contact. According to savethechildren.org, “children make up 27% of all human trafficking victims.” They also go on to say that 2/3 of these victims are girls . While trafficking is a parent’s worst nightmare, sometimes victims of online predators are subjected to sexual assaults or worse. We have all read the news stories about children who were sent plane tickets to fly across the country. These kids are meeting their boyfriends, or someone they thought was a friend. It is a terrifying thought for any parent to come home to find your child gone and discover they are at a strangers home in another state.
It's Not Always Fun and Games
It is important to be vigilant on social media sites as well as the online games children play. From Roblox to Fortnite, many of these games give children the option to add and chat with friends. Unfortunately, some of these friends are online predators. Another issue is that some games do not give the option of parental controls for parents to monitor. It relies on children being forthcoming with the information on who they are corresponding with.
Recently a friend posted online about her son meeting someone through the online game Fortnite. This person told her son that he needed his vbucks card number (think gift card for Fortnite) so that he could load money onto it. Children often think the best of people and don’t even consider the negatives that could happen in a situation with a new online friend. It is important to be well informed of your child’s activity especially when it comes to monetary items. Many of these game cards are linked to parent’s credit cards which could mean fiscal disaster. So while we typically think of online predators as being creepy sexual deviants, oftentimes they just want money.
While the thought of strangers communicating with your child online can be terrifying. There are options out there to keep them safe. From apps that are installed on their phone, to connecting their devices to your accounts for oversight there are options that will give you peace of mind.