In today’s technology driven world, kids use social media sites, chat rooms, and texting as their primary communication tools. Online predators know this and are constantly roaming these online spaces for their next victims.
There are an estimated 500,000 online predators active each day. Children between 12 and 15 are especially susceptible to being groomed by online predators. In cases where children have been physically harmed by predators they met online, 100% of them reported that they went to meet the offender voluntarily. Additionally, recent studies reveal that 15-20% of teens surveyed say they have considered arranging an in-person meeting with someone they have only talked to online.
According to the FBI, an estimated 89% of sexual advances directed at kids occur in Internet chat rooms or through instant messaging. While the end goal for some of these online predators may be an in-person meeting, others may aim to engage in sextortion schemes that target kids by instructing them to send sexually explicit photos of themselves and using those photos as blackmail.
While some predators use fake profile pictures and fake ages to pose as peers, many never attempt to hide the fact that they are adults because teens often feel validated by the idea of having an older “friend” who appears attentive and supportive. Online predators may use shared hobbies or interests (real or fake) to establish an online relationship with the victim. Interaction then progresses to gaining the child’s trust by complimenting them, listening sympathetically, and engaging in increasingly personal conversation. Over time, these exchanges evolve into sexual conversations, and can eventually result in kids sending inappropriate photos or agreeing to meet in person..
This process is one that occurs more often than most parents want to believe. Here are five warning signs that may indicate that your child is being groomed by an online predator:
- Your child begins to spend an increased (even excessive) amount of time online.
- Your child becomes very secretive about online activities and won’t allow you to see their screen or view their social media accounts. They may become possessive of phones or personal devices, or quickly switch tabs or screens whenever they realize you are close by..
- Your child begins using mature or sexually explicit language that you would not otherwise expect them to know.
- Your child becomes unusually withdrawn or emotionally volatile.
- You find sexually explicit photos or pornography on devices or computers that your child uses.
The first and most important step in addressing any of these red flags is to talk to your child about the changes in their behavior and your concerns about the stress they appear to be experiencing. If you determine that your child may be the victim of a sextortion scheme, there are a number of resources that can help you respond and report the issue.
Whether your child has already encountered an online predator or not, there are also steps you can take to mitigate the risk. Install parental controls on all devices that your child can access, and have a candid and serious conversation with your child about your rules and expectations for their online behavior.
The free OffenderWatch Family Safety App is another valuable tool in the fight to prevent the unthinkable. With the Family Safety App, parents can track their kids in real time, locate registered sex offenders nearby, and receive alerts when a new offender moves into their area. Other premium notification and blocking features are available with a monthly Family Watch subscription.