What Online Predators Don’t Want YOU to Do
By Kelli Bouck
As I scrolled through the photos on my phone, I was caught up in all the spectacular pictures I had just taken while on vacation with my sisters, until my eyes fell upon something I never expected to see. Right there, among my vacation photos, appeared a number of very graphic naked pictures of my two youngest boys, ages 9 and 12. I was out of the country, so I frantically dialed the phone trying to reach my husband. All sorts of horrendous thoughts were running through my mind; “Who took these pictures?”, “Were they posted on the internet?”, and “Is there an online predator asking my children to send pictures of themselves to him, and if so, how did he find them?”
My husband and I talked with the children and learned that, fortunately, there was no stranger soliciting my children for photos, nor had they posted the pictures on any kind of social media website. The bad news was that they had come across some naked pictures on YouTube and decided it would be funny to take some of each other with our iPad, which happens to share the cloud with my iPhone.
How did this happen? My husband and I had set up parental controls on all of the computers, video game systems, and televisions in the home. None of our 4 children owned his own cell phone, and we had a password locked iPad.
How Likely is My Child to Become a Victim of an Online Predator?
A report published in 2014 in the United Kingdom found that 23% of children ages 8 to 11 have a profile on a social media account (“Online,” 2017), and in another report published in 2015, it was shown that 88% of American teenagers between the ages of 13 and 17 personally owned a smartphone (Symons, Ponnet, Emmery, Walrave, & Heirman, 2017). These trends show that the internet is here to stay, and as parents, we need to better understand our role in protecting our children.
Statistics show that approximately 1 in 7 youth that uses the internet have received unwanted sexual solicitations, while 1 in 25 received an online solicitation for sex in which the solicitor then tried to make contact offline. In 27% of incidents, the solicitors asked the youth to share sexual photographs of themselves. Parent’s knowledge of their children’s problematic online activity (looking at porn or posting personal information) was found to be lacking when compared to what was reported by their children in a 2004 EU kids online study (Symons et al., 2017).
So, What Should We Do?
We need to do exactly what online predators don’t want us to do, and that is to teach our children online skills that will keep them safe. It may seem kids today know much more about the internet than their parents and in some regards this is true. They can navigate the web with great deftness, but they lack the maturity and discernment needed to avoid dangers. It is precisely this combination of online prowess and immaturity that online predators are counting on to deceive children and put them in harm’s way. This is why it is imperative to teach them responsible behaviors, monitor their online use, and foster healthy open communication. My husband and I found a number of helpful tools that we were able to use to teach our children responsible online behaviors, including the following list:
- Never post personal pictures
- Don’t accept friend requests from anybody that you don’t know
- Never give out any personal information, such as your name, phone number, address, birthday, or school
- If someone you don’t know starts an online conversation with you make your parents aware
- Never agree to an in-person meeting with anyone that you’ve met online unless a parent will be accompanying you
- Don’t use your real name, create and use a screen name
- Do not add locations on your posted pictures or the “check-ins” feature on Facebook
- Tell your parents if you read or see something that makes you feel uncomfortable
- Tell your parents immediately if an online interaction makes you feel unsafe
- Place the computer or gaming system in a common area where their use can easily be monitored. Also, monitor time spent on mobile phones and tablets
- Spend time online with your child
- Bookmark your child’s favorite sites for easy access
- Listen to your child if they report any uncomfortable online exchange
Knowledge of your child’s internet activity will increase through monitoring, but even more effective is the creation of a warm, loving environment in which your child feels safe in communicating openly with you (Symons et al., 2017). Lastly, be mindful of your own online activity and the details you are sharing on social media about your family and kids. Posting about your child’s whereabouts and activities could be inadvertently providing online predators with information they should not have.
What if My Child Encounters a Suspicious Person Online?
If your child reports to you that they have been solicited in an inappropriate manner by any person online, document all related online activity as much as possible and report it to local law enforcement or contact CyberTipline (part of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children) they specialize in handling cases of online predators. Be sure to praise your child for their honesty and courage to get help.
Empowering our children with knowledge is one of the best ways to protect them, Educate and Empower Kids has a number of excellent parent resources to assist you in this effort. The following books provide conversation starters, information, and age-appropriate activities that can help to tackle sensitive subjects: Conversations with My Kids 30 Essential Family Discussions for the Digital Age and our 30 Days of Sex Talks series.
Kelli Bouck is a stay at home mother of 4 very active boys. She is a Marriage and Family Studies major at Brigham Young University- Idaho and hopes to continue in her passion for working with children with developmental disabilities and their families as a special needs life coach.
Online Social Media and Risks: An Exploration into Existing Children Practice. (2017). 2017
International Conference on Electrical Engineering and Informatics (ICELTICs),
Electrical Engineering and Informatics (ICELTICs), 2017 International Conference on, 195.
Symons, K. Ponnet, K., Emmery, K., Walrave, M., and Heirman, W. (2017). Parental Knowledge of Adolescents’ Online Content and Contact Risks. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 46(2), 401-416.