Your teen comes home from school and goes up to his/her bedroom, closes the door and goes online. You worry who he or she may be talking to online. You’re not alone. One of the biggest fears that parents have when kids go online is online predators, especially since more than 40 percent of kids have computers in their bedrooms with webcams.
The good news is that your child actually becoming the victim of an online predator is unlikely. The bad news is that according to FBI, “online predators are everywhere online,” and are working hard to engage children online. Predators aren’t scary looking and don’t stand out. They look like you or me or anyone down the street. They are “mostly male, although we are seeing an alarming trend of female predators. Male predators are often married with children. A professional, upstanding in the community but leading a deviant lifestyle through the Internet.”
Parents need to pay attention to their children’s online activity and take preventative measures to protect their children from online predators. No one wants their child to be that victim that we read about in the news all too frequently.
Stats parents should know:
- More than 500,000 predators are online everyday
- Kids 12 to 15 are susceptible to being groomed and manipulated by offenders online
- FBI stats show that more than 50 percent of victims of online sexual exploitation are 12-15 years old
- 89 percent of all sexual advances toward our children take place in internet chat rooms and through instant messaging
- In (27 percent) of exploitation incidents, predators asked kids for sexual photographs of themselves.
- 4 percent of kids get “aggressive” sexual solicitations that included attempts to contact the kids offline
How do predators connect with children online?
Chatrooms are predators' dream come true and are the predominant online location where predators meet kids. Sites like Omegle that invite kids to talk to strangers are a parent's nightmare. Teaching your child not to talk to strangers is one of the first lessons in life that a parent gives their child. There are hundreds of these sites. Kids are naturally curious and many kids visit them thinking it’s no big deal. Kids should not be on these sites, period. They are disturbing and ripe with nudity and explicit disgusting sexual behavior in addition to being havens for predators. Many gaming sites also have chatroom capabilities leaving a child vulnerable to potential exploitation. Many of these sites have webcam functionality. “There are ways to turn the webcam on without you knowing you’re being watched,” said an FBI Special Agent.
Predators can also find kids on Facebook and other social networking sites. They often create a fake identity online and may pose as a teenager, the child never the wiser. Many kids become friends with complete strangers online with 70 percent of kids accepting “friend” requests regardless of whether they know who they are friending. A little less than half (43 percent) of teenagers who first met someone online later met them in real life.
YouTube and other video sites where kids post videos about themselves is another vehicle for predators to find children. The more information kids post about themselves on line the easier it is for a predator to find them. Pictures of kids in school sports uniforms, talking about their school or activity, posting where they are on their status updates, or using Foursquare a geo-location site. There are many opportunities for predators to compile the puzzle pieces to find out more about a child, their tastes in music, TV, and ultimately where they’re located. Many kids are indiscriminate about the information they are posting online, on their social networking profiles for the world to see. According to a Harrisinteractive/McAffee study, more than half of teens (52 percent) have given out personal information online to someone they don’t know offline including personal photos and/or physical descriptions of themselves. Many 13- to 17-year-olds (69 percent) have updated their status on social networking sites to include their physical location, 28 percent chatted with strangers (people whom they did not know in the offline world) and 12 percent have posted their cellphone number.
After the Predator has made a Connection: Grooming
Adolescence is a time of turmoil for many kids resulting in difficult relationships with parents as they are seeking to be independent adults. This is neither the fault of parents nor kids. Some kids may feel lonely, unsupported, that their parents are too strict, and that no one understands them. They may turn to the Internet and chat rooms to find someone they can talk to and feel a connection with. Unfortunately, this can be a recipe for disaster as predators wait for these vulnerable kids. Predators are master manipulaters and provide the online “pretend” support these kids are looking for to build trust and to verify the child’s feelings. They work at becoming that child’s friend and gaining trust which is known as the grooming process. “It could continue for days or weeks before the pedophile begins bringing up sexual topics, asking for explicit pictures or for a personal meeting. By that time an emotional connection has been made.”
After a nude picture is sent by the child, sometimes sextortion occurs, extortion using sexual images. This recently happened to a Massachusetts 13-year-old who thought she was communicating with a teenager. She sent him a naked photo. This man is 35 and from England. He then threatened her if she didn’t send more naked pictures. Fortunately this man is behind bars.
Another recent case involved a 12-year-old girl. A teacher happened to confiscate this girl’s phone and noticed inappropriate text messages. The 28-year-old man from El Salvador was planning on picking up this girl from school that afternoon. The man had sent her the cellphone; her mom didn’t know she had one.
These stories are alarming and they are real. In both situations, these predators found their victim on Facebook.
What Can Parents Do?
- Self education- Learn what kids may be exposed to online – Learn what the risks are.
- Communitcating, educating, e-mentoring your kids about:
- Online risks
- Chatrooms, game site risks
- Predators and to be aware of manipulative behavior, gifts, requests for nude pictures, grooming.
- Predators don’t look scary, they look like you or I, or the person down the street.
- Teaching your child that if they get in a situation that feels uncomfortable, that they should and can always come to you and that they won’t get in trouble if they do.
- Only friend people they know on Social Networking Sites
- Never meet someone they’ve met online without talking to an adult first.
- Turn off webcam when not in use
3. E-mentor kids online especially when they have a computer in their bedroom. ScreenRetriever enables parents to monitor children’s computer activity live where ever the child’s computer is located in the home including who your child is communicating with using their webcam.
4. Set limits and ground rules about what your child is allowed to do online, sites they visit, information they post, who their friends are on social networking sites, who they are chatting with. Go over the ScreenRetriever tips before they are allowed on the computer.
5. Learn the language your kids use on the computer and cellphone, like A/S/L or GNOC.
6. When your child comes to you with a problem, be there for them, and don’t over react. Many kids don’t tell their parents when they have a problem online because they are afraid they will lose computer privileges.
7. Start e-mentoring early when kids go on the computer so that your family values and rules are ingrained early.
One child caught in the manipulative trap of a predator is one too many. This can be prevented when parents “parent online” and “e-mentor”.