With summer break right around the corner, it is 𝒊𝒎𝒑𝒐𝒓𝒕𝒂𝒏𝒕 for parents and caregivers to begin to have conversations with their children about online safety. There are so many hidden risks and dangers in the cyber world that parents, children, and youth 𝒎𝒖𝒔𝒕 be equipped with the knowledge to know what to be on guard for.
The first step for parents and caregivers is awareness, knowledge, and understanding. This means that parents and caregivers take the steps necessary to learn about what their children are doing online and how they access specific platforms. For example, do they have access to platforms via their phone, tablet, or friend’s computer? If so, what types of sites are they accessing?
Similarly, parents and caregivers must be aware of the dangers present online – 𝒆𝒗𝒆𝒏 𝒊𝒇 𝒊𝒕 𝒎𝒂𝒌𝒆𝒔 𝒖𝒔 𝒖𝒏𝒄𝒐𝒎𝒇𝒐𝒓𝒕𝒂𝒃𝒍𝒆. The reality is that predators and those who seek to do harm are banking on our silence, avoidance, and lack of awareness surrounding topics related to online enticement, grooming, sextortion, cyberbullying, and child abuse sexual material or CSAM.
For example, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (2023) reports:
In 2022 the category of online enticement saw an increase of 82% from 2021 to 2022. One of the contributing factors in that growth was an alarming spike in reports of financial sextortion, a crime in which kids are targeted to share explicit photos and then threatened by offenders that they will share the images with the child’s friends, family, or others if they don’t give the blackmailer money. Several of these cases have had tragic outcomes with panicked children taking their own lives.
Therefore, it is time to engage in age-appropriate conversations with our children about these dangers. How can you do this? Sometimes it can be helpful to use a current event to open a conversation with your children so that you can learn how they think about specific concepts. For example, if you know of a situation that was on the news or in a book you read about a situation involving a child or youth who became victim to online predators, you could simply say, “Hey, so I saw this situation on the news. Have you heard about it? What are your thoughts about it?” Then, you can go from there. There will be differences depending on age, but sometimes youth will not freely give up what they are doing online. So it can be more productive to take a gentler approach.
Some other helpful questions to ask are:
- Has anyone ever tried talking to you online about inappropriate or sexual things? What did you do?
- Do you trust all of your online friends? Are there any people you should unfriend or block?
- Do you know how to report, flag, or block people on the websites and apps you use? Can you show me?
- Who would you talk to if you were upset by a request you received online?
Remind your children that they have the right to say ‘no’ and hold the power to report something to authorities if someone is ever making them feel pressured into doing something that is sexual or harmful for their overall health and well-being.
Remind your children that even if they do engage in some form of sexual activity where they produce and share sexual content online (i.e. sexting) and it gets posted online, you are there to help them through that experience and there are ways to get those images off the web.
Remind your children that no matter the context, it is never their fault if someone decides to share explicit pictures or videos of them online.
Report any incidents to the NCMEC CyberTipline including situations where someone sends your children videos or photos of obscene content, someone asks your children to send sexual images or videos, someone who speaks to your children in a sexual manner, and anyone who tries to meet your children in person.
Next, think about installing some software on your devices that filter and monitor what your children are doing online. Norton Security, Canopy.us, and Bark.us have some great options available. Engage in conversations with them about privacy, sharing personal information, blocking, and reporting accounts within the apps themselves.
Finally, be a safe and trusted adult so that your children are able to come to you if there is an issue or if they are experiencing any type of harm.
Listen. Do not shame or condemn them. Offer solutions. Provide support and access external resources that can help. Remind them that they did the right thing coming to you.
Remember, knowledge is power and action can help prevent harm from happening and/or escalating.
For more helpful resources, check out https://www.missingkids.org/netsmartz/resources
For more information on human trafficking, check out our Resource Library.
You got this.
NCMEC (2023). CyberTipline 2022 Report. Retrieved from https://www.missingkids.org/cybertiplinedata