May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Here at Global Hope 365, we are very aware of how Human Sex Trafficking and Child Marriage impact the mental health of the young victims we advocate for every day. Social media and the online world of gaming are very intertwined with sex trafficking and child marriage issues.
The online world gives Human Traffickers easy access to our children and many ways to connect and groom them for sexual slavery or blackmail them into participating in sex acts, posting pornographic photos, videos, or live-action sexual events.
These sexual predators are adept at identifying lonely, isolated, depressed, children suffering from low self-esteem. These children spend endless hours online and may not be supervised by an adult or educated in what to look for to be safe online.
One could take the point of view that these social media platforms and online gaming platforms create the psychological mindset that makes a child a perfect target for a sex trafficker. The addictive nature of the platform keeps children online for hours each day, creating the ideal conditions for sexual predators, an endless supply of victims for the constantly growing demand for pornography, child marriages, and sex workers and slaves.
Many studies have found a strong link between heavy social media usage and an increased risk for depression, anxiety, loneliness, self-harm, and even suicidal thoughts. Social media may promote negative experiences such as inadequacy about your life or appearance.
Teens' developing brains are vulnerable to so much time online gaming and interacting with social media. They often have difficulty self-regulating their screen time, leading to sleep deprivation. Sleep loss can lead to moodiness, poor grades, lower immune system functions, anxiety, and depression. Teens need more sleep than adults, so the lack of sleep is detrimental to their growth and wellbeing.
Children experience cyberbullying by their peers. Teens fear they won't stay relevant. It takes a lot of energy and time to keep up with how fast the culture is evolving and how quickly someone can be "canceled" for a mistake they made online. They see it happen to their favorite celebrities and worry it will happen to them. Remember what it felt like to be the one cut out of your group of friends? Today it is easy to cyberbully someone and have them lose their online voice and community.
Teens get addicted to getting "likes." They feel validated and then need to keep creating more content to gather more likes. It can be exhausting trying to create a perfect profile. People don’t post the boring and negative things that happen to them on their social media accounts. Kids want to look good to the world, leading to a lot of self-comparison and jealousy, slut-shaming, and cyberbullying. It also leads to anxiety and depression.
From the Government report, Toolkit for mental Health K-12
Body image is a core part of adolescent development.
” Overt criticism of body image is highly prevalent online. Body dissatisfaction is linked to severe mental health conditions, including depression and eating disorders. Social media can have an impact on teens’ attitudes toward body image.
As reported by Common Sense Media, “among the teens active on social networks-
35% reported having worried about people tagging them in unflattering photos.
27% reported feeling stressed out about how they look when they post pictures.
22% reported feeling bad about themselves when nobody comments on or “likes” the photos they post.”
(Children, Teens, Media, and Body Image, 2015)
For more vulnerable young people, exposure to "extreme communities" that provide support, information, and encouragement for behaviors such as disordered eating, self-mutilation, and suicide, can pose a severe hazard. These interactions may influence a vulnerable individual's decision to engage in these behaviors and promote the idea that suicide will relieve their pain. According to a 2012 report, "interactions via chat rooms or discussion forums may foster peer pressure to die by suicide, encourage users to idolize those who have completed suicide or facilitate suicide pacts" (Luxton et al., 2012)
Sherry Gordon, a mental health bullying expert, wrote: " On the Five Ways Social Media Affects Teen Mental health."
While social media is a great way to keep in touch with friends and family, it also is not the same as face-to-face communication. For instance, a teen cannot see a person's facial expressions or hear their tone of voice online. As a result, it is very easy for misunderstandings to occur, especially when people try to be funny or sarcastic online.
Many teens spend so much time online checking statuses and "likes" that they forget to interact with the people right before them. For this reason, friendships and dating relationships can suffer when social media takes center stage in a person's life. As a result, teens risk having relationships that are not deep or authentic.
Teens who prioritize social media will often focus on the pictures they take that show how much fun they are having rather than focusing on having fun. The result is that their friendships suffer.
Online Video Gaming does have some positive effects on hand-eye coordination, strategy and problem-solving skills, speed, timing, and dexterity. It can increase creativity.
Here are some of the concerns that the experts want you to pay attention to:
Violence- extreme violence conditions children to accepting violent behavior and normal and acceptable. It numbs children to the true nature of violence and can promote violent behavior.
Sexual content including pornography embedded in games (i.e., Grand Theft Auto) and virtual sex games (allows users to act out sexual fantasies and to participate in voyeuristic sex)
Predators- posing as children have easy access to building relationships with your child, gaining their trust, and exploiting the relationship for grooming and exposing them to pornography and potential sex trafficking.
Cyberbullies are rampant in the gaming world.t. It's easy to bully other strangers. There is no cost in the real world, and players get the feeling of power they crave.
Webcams leave your child open to the possibility of pedophiles accessing their cameras, selling images online to porn sites. Many children have been victims of this type of invasive blackmail.
Voice-masking Technology allows adults to pose as children. Men pose as teen girls to attract boys or teen boys to attract girls. There have been many episodes of a child meeting a person online that they thought was their age and arranging to meet them in the real world. Most of the time, it was an adult that was a sexual predator. Many of these stories have terrifying endings.
In 2018, tech companies reported over 45 million online photos and videos of children being sexually abused — more than double what they found the previous year.
"Parents need to understand how intricately linked the gaming industry and pornography industry is. More and more games have pornography embedded in them. If kids play online, that is a pornographer's heyday for marketing, grooming, and hooking young consumers."
— Jill Manning, Ph.D. Marriage and Family Therapist
The mental, physical, and emotional health and wellbeing of our children are under attack. The effects of the 2020-2021 Covid-19 Pandemic with schools moving online left children isolated. Incidents of depression, anxiety, drug overdoses, and suicide among children increased dramatically. Experts are still trying to calculate the massive cost to our children’s mental health, development, and the effects on their futures.
Their only access to the world was online. The time kids now spend online has more than doubled, and they are starting their online lives earlier.
Predators never have to leave their homes to make a fortune by exploiting our kids.
Take action today by creating a plan for keeping your children safe online.
You are not immune. Remember, sexual predators, sex traffickers, and pedophiles have no boundaries. According to the FBI, these crimes happen in every type of neighborhood, among all socio-economic levels, every race and nationality.
Talk to your children. Educate them on the dangers of social media and online gaming.
Get familiar with safety tools available to protect you and your children online. Make a family plan to be safe. Make sure you know what your children are doing online, what sites they visit, what apps they are using, what games they play. Stay up to date and be involved.
Join us at Global Hope 365.org Learn how you can make a difference and advocate for our children’s safety. Get educated about Human Trafficking.
Global Hope 365 educates city, county, and local lawmakers on human trafficking prevention and increased penalties for offenders. Support our outreach efforts to establish a human trafficking perpetrator registry to help law enforcement efforts to prevent human trafficking victims.
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