You wouldn’t allow your child to stumble through a pile of rusty nails when learning to walk or attend a dance with a boy you’ve never met. So why would you allow your child to be unsupervised on the Internet where, for all its learning and research benefits, an equal number of dangerous people lurk?
The average victim of online enticement is age 15 but according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, it can begin much younger.
Online enticement is defined as an individual who is communicating online with someone who is known to be a child, with the intent to commit a sexual offense or abduction. It happens on every platform—social media, messaging apps and games—and in most cases, the victim knows the offender only through online communication.
Predators prey on children because of their innocence, zeroing in on those struggling with body image or problems with family or friends. They “like” their social media posts, present themselves as being able to provide emotional or material things that loved ones can’t or won’t, and work to obtain trust…and personal information.
Children don’t understand that this individual may be trying to harm them and, if parents aren’t paying attention, the situation can escalate quickly, with the predator tracking the child’s whereabouts through their devices.
If you’ve cultivated a close relationship with your child, you’ll notice immediately if things aren’t right. The key word is “change”—in their appearance, grooming and clothing choices, diet and sleep patterns, friends, interest in extracurricular activities or grades in school. Specifically, take note if your child is:
Being secretive about online activities
Abruptly changing screens or turning off their computer when adults enter the room.
Being obsessive about or becoming angry when they can’t get online.
Receiving or making phone calls to unknown people.
Texting with agitation.
When monitoring a child’s use of phones and computers, parents often grapple with how much privacy to give. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer because no two children are the same. But these suggestions may help:
Strive every day to create and maintain a healthy relationship with your child where communication is open. Be consistent, firm and loving. Set boundaries with a curfew and by checking in, and reward them incrementally when their boundaries are met.
Establish clear rules, such as no use of devices during school hours and two hours on school nights. Set a weeknight time for powering off all electronic devices in the home—yours, too!
Talk honestly about bullies, sexual predators and other harmful people on the Internet. Remind your child it’s your job to protect them, and that you’ll periodically check their Facebook, Instagram and other sites to see their posts and those of others.
Check out Unglue, a free app developed by two California dads who felt helpless about their kids’ online habits. The app allows you to turn off your child’s phone during school and at bedtime, pause the Internet, even schedule chore times.
Look on your child’s devices for apps such as TikTok, which may expose them to cyberbullying and predators. Discuss the dangers, then delete them. Obtain their passwords for their contacts, social media and messaging.
Consider not letting your teens go out by themselves. Arrange for you or another parent to drop off and pick up.
Parents should never shrink from vigilantly protecting their children online, just as they would at a playground or in a car. After all, keeping them safe is your most important job.
By // Dr. Courtney Gaines
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