February 26, 2021
February is National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month, designed to raise awareness about teen dating violence and promote safe, healthy relationships. Teen dating violence is a growing problem among our teens. One in ten girls will experience violence at the hands of an intimate dating partner. Ten percent of teens reported last year they were the victim of a violent assault or rape.
Since the Covid -19 pandemic forced the closing of most schools across the county, children of all ages are spending their time at home and online. Not only has their schoolwork been moved to online, now their social life as well.
Imagine being a teen who is home alone and away from all your friends. All the activities that you devoted your time to are unavailable. No more team sports, socializing, volunteer work, or part-time jobs. Now you spend your school days, plus all your free time at home. Most of your days are about staring at a computer screen.
Depression, isolation, boredom, and loneliness have become huge problems for our teenagers, leaving them vulnerable to Online predators. They are taking advantage of our children being home and online to exploit, bully, abuse, and groom them for sexual exploitation, kidnapping, and sex trafficking.
Calls to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the organization that handles cyber tips in the United States, have more than doubled, from 983,734 reports in March 2019 to 2,027,520 reports in March 2020.
Predators are looking to exploit your children online by:
Convincing them to share sexually explicit photos.
Convincing them to meet in person for sexual activity and possible abduction.
Using blackmail tactics to profit from the sales of their videos and photos.
Convincing them to engage in sexual conversations, online role-playing, and sexting.
Predators can reach out to your children from any country in the world. They have an endless supply of victims. They know your children are at home. If one child doesn't respond to their tactics, they just move on to the next. Child pornography is a multi-billion -dollar industry growing by leaps and bounds.
How do they engage your child?
Predators are experts in the psychology of grooming. The predator initially might represent themselves as a teen and befriend your child. They want to gain their trust and friendship. The predator then uses the relationship and trust to manipulate and elicit the child's cooperation. The predator's end goal is sexual exploitation.
Predators try to stay to the encrypted platforms to protect their privacy and to avoid police scrutiny. The most popular apps are their most popular trolling sites. Tik Tok, Snapchat, WhatsApp, Instagram, and Fortnite are a few of the predator’s favorites.
Who is at risk?
Children and Teens who are feeling isolated.
Children and Teens who suffer from anxiety and or depression.
Children and Teens who are angry with their parents or feel ignored.
Children and Teens who feel they do not fit in or are misunderstood.
Children and Teens who have been or are currently being bullied in school or online.
Children and Teens who have experienced physical or sexual abuse at home.
Children and Teens who have low self -esteem. They are attracted to anyone who offers love and affirms their value.
These children are prime targets for manipulation. They pray on their emotions and insecurities or may bribe them with gifts. The predators may also threaten them and their families with violence or exposure.
Even if your child does not fit the profile of those at-risk, do not be fooled into complacency. The key to keeping your children safe is an informed parent and educated child. If Children are using computers, they are not too young to start having conversations about safety online.
How to Keep Your Kids Safe Online.
I interviewed my friend's thirteen-year-old daughter about online safety. She is an actress and singer and posts videos of her performances. She is also an accomplished make-up artist. She posts her newest make-up looks along with the usual teen Tik Tok dance moves. She plays online multiplayer video games. She has a robust online life. A typical teenager. Here is what she said.
“These are my rules for staying safe online."
Don’t be too trusting.
Don’t share any personal information.
Don’t respond to PMS when you don’t know the person.
Block any sketchy people who ask inappropriate questions.
Make your account private when communicating with friends.
Pay attention and be smart.
When in doubt, ask your mom. "
The other day in response to a fashion photo she posted on Instagram, she received several messages asking her to act as brand ambassador for a French fashion label. While very flattered, her first instinct was to take it to her mom for evaluation. I give her an A+ for online safety knowledge and following her own rules!!! I think she covered all the basics.
Some Additional Safety Tips to Teach Your Children/Teens
Remember, do not post photos that include personal information in them like your school or home in the background.
Manage your digital footprint- share photos with friends and family only.
Turn off geo-targeting in your apps to keep your location private.
Some Additional Safety Tips for Parents:
Know your Children/Teens online friends.
Learn what parental internet controls are available to you.
Keep an open dialogue with your children/teens about safety online.
Join social media platforms that your kids frequent. Observe the online content and stay informed.
5 internet filtering services for families: https://endsexualexploitation.org/articles/kids-online-more-thanks-to-covid-19-her e-are-five-internet-filtering-services-for-families/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_m edium=email&utm_campaign=ncose
What do you do if your child is a victim of an online predator? If you find out that your child is being groomed, bullied, or coerced by a predator do not erase the evidence. Save the chats. Screenshot the conversations. The authorities will use this data to try and track down the offender. Do not shame or blame your child. They will already be doing that to themselves. Let them know you are grateful that they are safe and that you will help them to stop the predator. Immediately block the offender. Call your local law enforcement.
Here are some resources to reach out to for help and for additional education about staying safe online.
Call the Cyber Tipline at 1-800-The- Lost.
The tip line is part of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). They offer support to victims and their families.
Offer education to families, schools, and communities for online safety. They have a curriculum for K-2 and 3rd-5th. Printable handouts on topics like smartphone use and sexting for teens.
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