The internet is a great resource for kids and teens, granting them access to a vast wealth of information. This new age of technology also makes it possible for children to make contact with others online through a vast array of platforms, including social media, email and text messaging. Therein, unfortunately, lies the safety risk of run-ins with online predators.
Although I hate to talk about these types of things, I would be doing the readers a huge disservice if I did not communicate the potential dangers and possible solutions to this problem.
Predators assume fake online identities and go on chat rooms, gaming sites and social network platforms just like anyone else. They will try to target young and impressionable people, often by “connecting” over their related life situations and speaking about their shared struggles or appreciation for things.
Online predators are adults who often in a sexually motivated way, approach children and teenagers online in order to exploit their naivety.
According to a leading FBI agent within the cybercrime division, almost all of the online predators he has brought to justice ask at least one or more of the following questions:
- Do you have a good relationship with your parents?
- Can they see your screen?
- Do your parents have access to your accounts?
All 3 questions revolve around making sure the young person involved is isolated, in an effort to not get caught out. After time spent building a “bond” and false sense of trust, the online predators will attempt to arrange an in-person meeting. This is either done through ensuring that no one else will be at the victim’s home or by offering up a unique meeting location.
Many parents are understandably concerned about online predators - but fortunately, this is not an unsolvable problem. There are proactive steps that parents (and schools) can take to keep youngsters safe from predators online.
3 Statistics About Online Predators
1) FBI figures state that there are more than 500,000 predators online, on any given day - and they are actively pursuing unsuspecting youngsters on the internet.
Yep. There are plenty of bad people on the internet and everyone needs to know how to protect themselves. Keep reading to learn the things you can do to keep safe.
2) 17% of tweens (ages 8-12) have received an online message with photos or words that have made them feel uncomfortable. And only 7% of parents were aware of this.
Many kids are exposed to online predators from a very early age. Without a trusting and supportive environment in the home and school, these threats can remain unnoticed to parents, schools and authorities.
3) Children, themselves, contribute to the risk through their online behaviour. Almost a third (31%) of children aged 12 -18 have lied about their age in order to gain access to a website, and 75% of them are willing to share personal information about themselves and their family for goods and services.
Lack of education and knowledge on the topic can increase the risk. Young people need to know the importance of protecting themselves and their private information online.
Click here to listen to an interview with the FBI themselves regarding simular matters.
What Are the Risks?
The most obvious danger to come from an inappropriate online relationship is the chance of a meeting offline. The child will often agree to a meeting because they have learned to trust their online friend.
Even children and teens who don’t go so far as to meet the predator in-person may also experience negative effects.
They may develop mental health issues, because they have seen pictures or other content that they were not mentally and emotionally ready for. They can become depressed or withdrawn, and begin to isolate themselves from their family and friends.
Another problem is online impersonation, or so-called “e-personation”, in which case an online predator can impersonate a teen by gaining access to their personal information online. They can then use this information to assume the identity of the victim, and under the assumed identity, the predator can then do or post things that damage the victim’s reputation. Rejection by friends and even cyberbullying can ensue from this.
The Underlying Problem: Knowledge & Awareness
The fact is that teens and children are vulnerable on the internet, and parents are not fully aware of what their children are up to online.
Youngsters are online almost constantly, and it is just about impossible for parents to track all of their online behaviour; and ever-increasingly, digital devices are beginning to be used by very young children. Between 2010 and 2015, the number of 3- to 4-year-olds using the internet effectively doubled, from 19% to 39%.
The fact that technology is constantly evolving and ever-changing also makes it difficult for parents to keep up with their children’s online habits.
That being said, there is still a strong, multi-pronged solution to this problem. Here are some sensible steps that can be taken, to keep youngsters safe from online predators.
Top 5 Ways to Protect Your Family Online
1. Educate Young People
When children are learning to use the internet, they must also learn how to use it safely. Youngsters must be warned not to respond to the advances of strangers online. They must also be taught what to do, if it happens.
Children need to know these practical steps:
- Not to disclose any personal information. This includes their real name, date of birth, phone number, address, school, as well as pictures of their home, street, school or playgrounds.
- How to block strangers and others on their social media platforms.
- Help them to understand that they are not at fault (and that they won’t get into trouble) if they report an incident.
- Teach them how to (and to whom) report an incident.
2. Build Trust Between Parents And Young People
This is an important point. Parents must work on building an open and trusting relationship with their children. Only when children feel safe and valued will they be able to freely come forward about something that makes them feel uncomfortable.
It can help with conversations if you are familiar with the program or app that you want to discuss. It can also help in giving advice to children. The Office of the eSafety Commissioner has a guide on age restrictions and privacy tools that games, applications or websites might have.
- Find out the age restrictions for the sites and applications your child wants to use.
- Find out how to block unwanted users. You can then talk to your child about how to do so. If you think your child may already know how, you can ask them to show you, and learn from them.
- Depending on the age of your child, set up your own accounts and ‘friend’ your child. By doing this, you can understand how the site’s privacy settings work, see what your child posts online and how your child responds to posts made by others.
3. Invest in a Parent Monitoring Apps
AI-powered systems can track a child’s online activity and alert parents about possible threats. There are apps available that can track smartphone, tablet and computer activities, as well as block suspicious or adult content. Some apps will also limit the time spent on social media and game platforms; other apps leave that decision up to the parent.
Some monitoring apps are also able to provide the child themselves with information about the dangers of the internet, and how to avoid them.
Link to: 13 Best Internet Safety Apps
4. Protect Your Family Data
On all your devices:
- Add an extra layer of protection with two-factor authentication.
- Set strict privacy settings for apps and websites - don’t use the default privacy settings.
- Set strong passwords, and change them often.
- Use antivirus protection.
- Turn off location services (unless you want to track your child’s movements).
- Check your browser setting for cookies, so that they can’t gather personal information about your family.
- Don’t let apps share data. If an app wants to access information on your phone, such as your contacts, photos, and calendar, don’t agree or check any boxes without knowing which data it will still work with. Otherwise, consider an app that doesn’t need so much data.
5. Schoolwide Interventions
Hosting an e-safety session is an effective way for a school to deal with the issue of online predators. E-safety sessions are led by cyber safety experts, people who know about the various dangers of the internet (such as cyber-stalking, cyber-bullying, online predators, and e-personation) and how to combat them.
These types of sessions help to raise the whole school community’s awareness about the online risks, without ever pointing fingers at any one particular individual or group. At the same time, the whole school community is able to hear the facts about online predators, and the damage that they can cause.
In order for this message to really sink in, though, it is necessary that schools host e-safety sessions regularly.
Link here for e-safety presenters list & my own e-safety presentation. Done in person around Australia or international via Virtual Conferences apps.
Take Action to Stay CyberSafe
Online predators pose a security risk for children and teens, and it is extremely important that youngsters, parents, and schools all understand the threat, and how to deal with it.
The first step is being aware of the danger. The next is to know what measures you can take to combat the risk. Being educated on online safety is more important than ever.
If everyone - youngsters, parents, and school communities - know the facts about online predators, and know what actions to take, we can make great strides in keeping our youngsters safe online.
These are just a handful of practical tips that you can perform to ensure your loved ones are avoiding falling victim to online predators, and if you're looking for some qualified help in this area or if you know of someone else who is, here are some contacts below that can be of service to you:
Lifeline on 13 11 14
Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978
Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467
Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36
Headspace on 1800 650 890
ReachOut at reachout.com.au