10 Ways to Protect your Children from Online Predators
The sexual exploitation of children has always been an issue, but living in today’s digital age we have essentially served our children up on a platter to online predators. Something that once took some planning and resourcefulness, can now be accomplished with a few clicks of a button. Gaining access to our children has never been easier, and it’s scary.
Every day, predators are targeting children via social media, chat rooms, cell phone apps, and video games. Cellphones used to be a luxury and have now become a necessity, with very few homes having landlines. According to information gathered by CTIA, 56 percent of children age 8 to 12, have their own mobile device. 88 percent of teens age 13-17, have or have access to a mobile device, and only 61 percent of those use privacy settings on their apps and social media accounts. Shockingly only 32 percent of parents have set rules for how their children use their smartphones, and only 46 percent of parents have access to their children’s social media sites.
This issue is much larger than sexual predators simply contacting and taking advantage of our children via the internet. Human trafficking for the purpose of slavery and prostitution is a growing threat in this country. According to The CNN Freedom Project, human trafficking produces a profit of 32 billion dollars every year, which makes it the third largest international crime industry. The U.S. State Department has determined that “600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders every year, of which 80% are female and half are children.” Sadly, “the average age a teen enters the sex trade in the U.S. is 12 to 14-year-old.” However, I have read reports of children as young as 9.
The reality is: there are bad people in the world, and our children need to know that. The more open and honest you are, the more prepared they will be.
Realize that human traffickers do not discriminate against age, gender, race, or income level. It is a common misconception that they only target females. Boys are at risk of sexual exploitation as well, although this does not receive the national attention that it should. Many parents and children have the mindset that, “this won’t happen to me” or “we live in a safe community.” Many parents state that they trust their children and know what they are doing at all times. Is it possible to really know what our children are doing all of the time? My stance is simply no, we cannot. As parents, it is our job to protect our children, it is not our job to trust them. We may feel like we have a grasp on this situation, and we may feel that our children are safe, but the statistics say otherwise. It can happen to you! Your children are at risk for exploitation! It is happening in your city, in your neighborhood, right now!
This information may seem scary, but realistically as parents, we should be scared. Unfortunately, we will never be able to demolish the sex trade industry, especially with new technology being invented every day. However, there are things you can do to protect your children. Here are 10 tips that will not only protect your children but allow you to rest easy at night.
1. Talk to your Children
Talking to your children about sexual predators, grooming tactics, and practicing safe internet activity is so important, yet for some reason, a lot of parents stray away from the conversation. Many find it uncomfortable or feel their child isn’t ready for the discussion. The reality is: there are bad people in the world, and our children need to know that. The more open and honest you are, the more prepared they will be. If you are approachable, your children will be more apt to come to you.
2. Increase your Computer Competency
Today, many children can operate a computer by the time they enter preschool. A child’s knowledge of computers and technology often times surpasses their parent’s knowledge. A lack of computer competency can ultimately place your child at risk. You cannot properly screen or monitor their activity if you do not have the skills to do so. Take the time to become familiar with their devices as well as the apps, games, and social media platforms they use.
3. Keep Logins and Passwords
Make sure that you keep the login and passwords to all devices, apps, and social media accounts. More importantly, use them! Don’t be afraid to regularly check your children’s social media accounts. There is parental software that you can install as well to help monitor activity. Let them be angry, they will thank you later.
4. Evaluate Privacy Settings
All social media accounts and apps have permission or privacy settings. You should ensure that all of their accounts are set to the highest privacy settings. This will help protect their information and identities. It will also keep online predators at bay. Stress the importance of privacy setting with your child, and remind them that they should never give out their personal information or location on the internet.
5. Put their Mobile Devices in Jail
This is a really important tip for children and pre teens. Every night at a time determined by you, take away their mobile devices and put them away. Lock them in a drawer, put them in your room– wherever you feel confident that your children will not have access to them. There is no need for them to be on their cell phones and tablets in the middle of the night. In my home, we have a basket in my room. My 10-year-old knows that when it’s bedtime, his cell phone, 3DS, and iPad go in the basket until morning.
6: Keep Computers Out of the Bedroom
Keep computers centrally located. It increases the chance that you will catch any suspicious or unsettling behavior. Use of a computer in the bedroom increases the risk for online predators, inappropriate internet surfing, and cyber bullying.
7. Limit Internet Use
Limit and monitor the amount of time your children are spending on the internet. If your child is spending a significant amount of time online (especially at night), is tired or irritable, and is underperforming in school and extracurricular activities, it may be a sign of a problem.
8. Get to Know the Friends
It’s crucial to know who your children are talking to and spending time with. Familiarize yourself with their friends, and make your presence known. Get to know their parents, and make sure they are familiar with your rules and expectations. If your child tells you they will be at a friend’s house, verify it. Many parents whose children have fallen victim to online predators report that their children used friends as a cover story in order to meet with someone they had been talking to online. Call to check in frequently. Texting makes it easier for your child to cover up suspicious behavior, so phone calls work best.
9. The Internet is a Privilege
Our children have developed a sense of entitlement. The internet is not a privilege; it is a right! The internet can and should be used as a reward. Make rules, and set boundaries. If you find that your child is not using the internet in a safe and appropriate manner, do not be afraid to take away the privilege.
10. No Judgement Zone/No Punishment
In order for your child to feel comfortable coming to you with a serious problem, they need to feel safe. They need to be sure that if they come to you for help, you will be there to guide and protect them. If they think you are simply going to yell, scream, and shame them for their mistakes, they may never come to you when it matters most. Keep an open mind and an open line of communication.