Simple Ways to Protect Your Child from Common Abuse in the Digital Age
35-year-old math teacher Brian Robeson initially began meeting privately with 14-year-old student Anna under the guise of mentorship. Soon after, he hosted private lunches with Anna in his classroom during school. Then he kissed her on her forehead during a school field trip. Finally he turned to email, using the platform to keep in contact with Anna 24/7. Her parents had no idea (Dejka, 2019).
The rise of the internet, smartphones and tablets, and hundreds of apps have created a dangerous situation for the children using these platforms. Without the direct supervision of a parent, children can find themselves interacting online with people they don’t know or worse, people like Brian Robeson who are looking to take advantage of the ease of online communication platforms. It’s critical for parents to understand that it is usually NOT a stranger in the shadows talking with their child online; most often, it is an adult they interact with in their daily life looking for an easy way to isolate and manipulate their victim.
According to Darkness to Light, nearly 90% of child abuse victims know their abuser. This staggering statistic forces parents to rethink who exactly is the greatest risk to their child online. And while apps like Kik and Whisper can connect children with thousands of strangers, it is also a possibility that an abuser who already knows the child will use online portals to have direct contact with their victim. This direct and unsupervised contact also enables institutional abusers to take advantage of public trust, like the churches and schools that employ them, while still creating abusive relationships with children online. By moving the manipulation online, abusers are able to maintain trust with the victim’s family and other adults in their life by seemingly behaving appropriately in the real world.
This reality can seem overwhelming, but there are ways parents can be active abuse prevention partners in their child’s internet experience. The best defense is keeping your kids off smartphones and social media until they are in their last one to two years of high school. Yes, all your friends are giving their kids smartphones sooner, but we have yet to hear of ANY parent who is glad they gave their child a smartphone or access to social media when they did. EVERY parent we have ever talked to, all over the country wishes they had waited!
But if you are not able to do this, you must gain a thorough understanding of the internet and it’s specific codes and acronyms. This can help parents quickly identify potentially dangerous individuals communicating with their children. Once you have an understanding of what the online world looks like for your child, it’s incredibly important to establish an open dialogue concerning internet safety. Honest and specific conversations about who your child is allowed to contact, what kind of communication they’re allowed to have, and what to do if your child comes across something like nudity or other explicit content online, is the foundation of a healthy online experience.
In addition to educating yourself and creating an honest dialogue, the following are simple steps parents can take to respectfully monitor their child’s online presence:
- Place the computer or gaming system in a common area where their use can be easily monitored
- Use monitoring apps like Circle Go to see where and how much time your child is spending on social media apps, certain games, and other online activities
- Spend time with your child online and see who they really are online
- Talk to your kids often about online dangers
- Listen carefully and respectfully to what your child says about their online habits—even if they seem unimportant—so your child will feel comfortable bringing up potentially serious issues with you
The internet age and all of its offshoots can often make parents feel like they are fighting a losing battle. However, the risks of letting your child have free reign over their online world requires active, informed parent involvement. This involvement doesn’t have to be a chore as finding fun, interactive things to do online is totally possible for both parents and children. Plus, any excuse to develop a foundation of honest communication between you and your child is a positive experience and building block of a successful parent/child relationship.
For more information on communicating successfully with your child, check out Conversations with My Kids: 30 Essential Family Discussions for the Digital Age on Amazon. If you are looking for information about taking with your child about sexuality, check out 30 Days of Sex Talks, Empowering Your Child with Knowledge of Sexual Intimacy (available for 3 age groups: 3-7, 8-11, and 12+).
(2020, February 06). Child sexual abuse statistics. Darkness to Light: End Child Sexual Abuse. https://www.d2l.org/child-sexual-abuse/statistics/
Dejka, J., Nitcher, E. (2019, December 18). Emails, hugs, promises: Teen victim describes how OPS teacher groomed her for sexual abuse. Omaha World-Herald. https://omaha.com/news/education/emails-hugs-promises-teen-victim-describes-how-ops-teacher-groomed-her-for-sexual-abuse/article_0137a540-e2c0-59ae-b370-6c2a134e1649.html