The Internet puts the world at your child’s fingertips. With a few clicks of a keyboard, the swipe of a phone, or the tap of a iPod or tablet, your child can bring the beauty of the world to the palm of her hand. Unfortunately, this same power allows your child to invite predators directly into his bedroom.
Online predators target victims who are susceptible to grooming—good kids from good homes, with good parents, and good futures ahead of them. Don’t lull yourself with a false sense of security by thinking, “My kid would never fall prey to someone online.” It can happen and it does happen every day.
But don’t stress out or immediately throw away everything in your home that receives a wifi signal. There are safe and simple things you can do to make your child a “hard target” for online predators.
Here are five tips to get you started:
1) Monitor, monitor, and monitor.
Your kids should not have an expectation of privacy when it comes to technology. Make it perfectly clear that you will and do read their texts and emails. Tell them that you will track where they go on the internet, and if you use monitoring software, don’t keep it a secret. Also monitor all social media and know exactly what apps are on your kid’s computer, phone or tablet.
2) Set house rules and stick to them.
Some of the rules can and should include:
- No technology in bedrooms, especially technology with cameras.
- No cell phones in rooms at night. Not only will this take away opportunity for a predator to engage in “private” conversations with your child, but taking the phone away at night will allow your child to get undistracted sleep.
3) Understand grooming
Online grooming is very similar to grooming that occurs in person. And since online grooming takes place at home—maybe even in the child’s room—the victim already has her guard down. She may be more likely to open up to someone online and divulge secrets, impart trust, and fall victim to a predator.
What are the signs of online grooming?
- The child is given money or gifts, including cell phones.
- Flattery and manipulation – The predator may write things like “No one loves you or understands you like I do.” Or they may always side with the child when there is conflict between the child and her parents.
- Sharing and keeping secrets online
- Sexualized conversations or sending and receiving nude or sexualized photos.
If you see any of these things, contact the police.
4) Remember: Unless you know the person in real life, assume that no one is who they say they are.
If your child gravitates towards sites like Disney, Nick Jr., and other sites where kids can “talk to their friends,” where do you think that predators who like children will go? Also be careful of multi-player games where your child can play online with people he or she does not know.
Tell your older children that the “hot” guy or girl who just friended them on social media is probably a 45-year-old, overweight dude living in his mom’s basement. And no matter how caring, sexy, or fun that person is, they are probably not who they say they are, ESPECIALLY if they want a teen or pre-teen to send photos, make videos, or talk about sex.
5) Have a frank discussion with older children about photos, sexting and the permanence of the internet.
The Internet is permanent. Be perfectly (and age appropriately) frank with your child. Tell him that any photo he takes and sends over the internet, anything posted on social media, and anything said via text or email will last forever (even if an app promises to make things “disappear”). Tell your teen that no matter how much they love and trust a boy/girlfriend, NEVER take or share nude or semi-nude photos. There is a strong chance that those clearly identifiable photos will end up on pornography sites.
Make it perfectly clear that you do not want your child’s digital legacy to be nude or graphic photos or videos, photos of drinking or drug use, criminal behavior, or anything that can jeopardize your child’s safety and future.