The chances that your child may fall victim to an online predator are rare, but the danger is still very real. A study from the University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center found that while reports have been steadily decreasing, 9% of children surveyed in 2010 reported receiving unwanted sexual solicitations online. Here are 3 steps to help your child avoid online predators.
1. Educate and Empower
The first step in helping your child to avoid online predators is to educate them on the danger itself. Just as you would caution them about accepting rides or gifts from strangers, teach them about talking to strangers online in a manner that doesn’t scare them as much as make them aware.
Christine Elgersma from child advocacy non-profit Common Sense Media suggests that parents let the child know that “there’s a chance someone could approach them online to get personal information, exchange pictures, and/or meet in person, and it might be someone who feels like an online friend.”
Tell them it’s rare, but it happens, and if does they should go straight to the nearest adult. Also remind them to never share personal information or pictures with someone they don’t know.
2. Monitor Your Child’s Online Activity
Most children spend hours online or in front of screens every day chatting, watching videos, playing games, texting and sharing pictures. While most of the time they are interacting with friends, there’s always a chance they could come in contact with a stranger with an ulterior motive.
Online predators thrive in chat rooms, online forums, social networks and anywhere else that gives them the ability to interact anonymously behind a screenname or profile picture. Whether your child is using a phone, a tablet or a laptop, you have the right to know what who they’re talking to.
Fortunately, there are a variety of parental control apps on the market to help you monitor your child’s activity online and see who they’re texting. Apps like FamilyTime not only allow you to limit screen-time, but will give you browser history, phone/text logs, app usage and more.
Keep tabs on who they call, email or text with. If you don’t recognize certain numbers or email addresses feel free to search them using a people search engine so you can see more detailed information including name, location, criminal history, sex offender status and more. If they appear at all suspicious you can use your control app to block them from reaching out again.
3. Look for Warning Signs
Parental control apps, however helpful, can only reveal part of the picture. Some possible warning signs that your child may be in contact with an online predator include:
- Hiding their phonescreen or shutting their laptop when you enter the room
- Receiving calls, texts or gifts from people you don’t know
- Taking inappropriate pictures or videos of themselves
- Lashing out when told to end online game or put phone away
- Becoming secretive about phone or computer use
- Acting depressed or withdrawn
Any of the above could be warning signs that your child may be in danger. Step in right away and non-threateningly seek to find the truth. Monitoring your child’s behavior is just as important as monitoring their activities online.
Again, it’s extremely unlikely that your child will ever fall prey to an online predator. Neither you nor they need to live in constant fear. All it takes is a little education and vigilance to keep them safe. And It starts with you.