In a time where practically all of a child’s social interactions are happening online, it is critical that caregivers talk to kids about how to safely navigate social media and other virtual communications. Knowing how predators work, setting up reasonable boundaries, and keeping communication open and honest will help to give kids the tools they need to recognize and report if a predator does try to target them.
It’s important to note that even the most vigilant parent and child can still be tricked. It’s not your fault. It’s not your child’s fault. The only person to blame is the predator.
Know How Predators Work
Predators groom children by becoming friends with them. They use compliments, commiseration, and/or common interests. Usually, they want explicit photos, but occasionally try to get money or sex. Predators are tricky and will use multiple forms of manipulations and lies. They pretend to be:
Once they gain their trust, they move the conversation to an anonymous messaging app. They begin pressuring the youth to send explicit photos of themselves. Now they have the leverage to threaten and extort to get what they want.
Their friends may also be contacted and demanded to share their own pictures by being told that if they don’t comply, then their friend’s photos/videos will be sent out.
The youth feels they have no choice but to keep doing what is asked of them.
Empower Youth with the Truth
Tell them there are people out there who may try to trick them. Let them know how predators operate.
Talk to your children, especially teens, about the dynamics of a healthy relationship.
Tell them it is illegal for someone to ask them for explicit pictures or distribute them. Your child would not get in trouble, the requester would.
It’s okay to be “intrusive” and have an uncomfortable conversation. Have the conversation when you can both give each other your full attention, not when they are staring at a screen.
Ask who they are talking to. “Have you ever had a friend request from someone you didn’t know?”
Use general language rather than specific, like “I heard this is going on…” You could try bringing it up by saying, “I heard a lot of kids these days are sending each other nude pictures. Has anyone ever sent you one?
Has anyone asked you to send a nude picture of yourself? What would you think if someone did?”
It’s not a one-time conversation. Check in often. They might react defensively the first time you bring it up. Let it slide. Then check in again. And again. Eventually, you will both be more comfortable talking about it.
Collaborate on Boundaries
Set limits and involve your children in creating them. Take a look at the privacy settings together on whatever platform they use. Change them to be more restrictive, if needed. Ask your child what they think are good boundaries and include your own. Some places to start:
They will be more invested in following the rules if they are involved in determining them.
Be Forgiving of Mistakes (of all kinds).
Let your children know that you are there to help and protect them. Do not shame them for making mistakes. Model it by asking for their forgiveness when you a make a mistake towards them. Let your child know to tell a trusted adult, even if it’s not you, as soon as anyone asks anything inappropriate of them or makes threats.
If you or your child has been a victim of sexual exploitation, we can help. The Alliance hotline is a confidential non-judgmental support service where staff and volunteers are available to provide emotional support, advocacy, information and referrals. If you or someone you care about has been a victim of sexual assault, domestic violence or stalking, please call our 24-hour crisis line:
Toll Free: (800) 273-7713
LGBTQ Hotline: (661) 322-2869
24-Hour Crisis Hotline: (661) 327-1091