With an estimated 950,000 predators that can be online at any given time, shouldn’t you be learning more about how to protect your children?
Historically, predators are typically older males, but in recent years and with the increased access of online platforms, we are starting to see younger and younger men target our children. Predators hang out online the same places teens do — Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, gaming platforms and more.
It can happen to anyone. I talked with a gifted 13-year-old athlete who was being recognized online for their accomplishments, which caught the attention of a verified influencer on Instagram. Naturally, the young teen was excited when they started to receive messages. But, these messages were a conduit to pick up young kids with promises of professional training. It took only a month for the teen to consider running away when his parents said no, thinking they were going to an amazing opportunity. Luckily, the predator was caught before anything happened.
Other kids aren’t so lucky.
5 ways to spot predators online
- Predators are overly-friendly, inquisitive and interested in what their potential victim is doing in order to groom them. If someone is asking your child a lot of questions and appears to dig for details of their lives, it’s typically a red flag.
- Don’t let your child post any location-specific information. We don’t really think about it, but predators take that information and use it to gather trust. Not only that, but if your child posts information about their location, it’s easy for them to be found by predators.
- Predators are always available. Kids are narcissistic and when someone is always there for them, they are easily manipulated. Look for ongoing messages that are overly-friendly or filled with compliments — that’s emotional manipulation.
- They want to be kept a secret. Often, predators will coax or threaten a child not to tell anyone by saying things like “You don’t have to tell your friends about me” or threaten that the relationship will end if anyone finds out. Anyone that tells your children that is likely a predator.
- Pay attention to behavioral changes in your kids. If a predator is talking to a child, they tend to become more secretive, withdrawn and more obsessed with time behind closed doors. It can be a challenge between normal teen relationships and predators, but typically those that are inappropriate tend to be more secretive.
What to do if a predator starts talking to your kid
- It’s extremely important that you talk to your kids so they know the warning signs of predatory behavior. Let your child know that if someone reaches out to them, they should immediately tell you. Be sure to reinforce they won’t get in any sort of trouble if they tell you. Sometimes, children withhold this information for fear they will lose their devices; it’s necessary to remind them that will not happen if they are open and honest with you.
- Make sure you randomly check your child’s accounts and see who they are talking to. If there are conversations that are pretty consistent but then seem to be missing chunks, chances are parts of the conversation have been deleted. If a child deletes parts of a conversation, there’s a reason and it’s imperative you find out why anything was deleted. They may be hiding information so they don’t get in trouble or jeopardize their relationship with the person. Remember, kids may not know that they are speaking with a predator.
- If you find a predator online, report it to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children; their hotline is open 24 hours a day. Never go after a predator on your own.
Dr. Lisa Strohman has become widely known for her advocacy and education around mental wellness as it relates to our digital lives. She has worked with thousands of parents, schools and children around the globe. An attorney, clinical psychologist, and author, Dr. Strohman established the Digital Citizen Academy, a program offered to schools with an in-home plan that educates, empowers and inspires balance and prosocial use of technology.
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